HOUSTON—Jack Del Rio and his quarterback, Byron Leftwich, were almost competing to take blame for the Jaguars' 27-7 loss to the Texans.
"I'm disappointed with the effort and as the head coach I'll take full responsibility. The bottom line is a very rough, rough day; did not make enough plays to even keep the game close," Del Rio told reporters following his team's shocking defeat at Reliant Stadium on Sunday.
"My ankle is fine. My ankle is not the problem. I didn't make enough plays to win the football game," Leftwich said.
Was Leftwich merely taking the "high road" in passing off his mysterious ankle injury as a non-factor in the loss? We may never know, but Del Rio told reporters he was on the verge of replacing Leftwich with David Garrard.
"I thought about it. I thought he was struggling. To start the second half, in my mind, if we didn't go down and score right there, I've got to make a change. Then we went right down the field and scored. It looked like we were going to be able to regroup and get it done," Del Rio said.
Leftwich finished the game. At no time, however, did he hit his stride, finishing the game with 14 completions in 28 attempts for 125 yards, no touchdowns, no interceptions and a 62.4 passer rating.
"I believe I was just a little off today. I just didn't play my best football," Leftwich said. "I never hit (any) rhythm. I never found it today. I was OK. I wasn't hurt," he insisted.
Leftwich awoke on Friday morning with a sore and swollen left ankle. The news came as a complete surprise to Del Rio, who held Leftwich out of practice. Leftwich underwent treatment over the weekend and the condition of his ankle improved.
Del Rio decided not to replace Leftwich with Garrard, after Leftwich moved the offense on a nine-play, 70-yard touchdown drive to start the second half. Leftwich completed a key third-down pass to Ernest Wilford to sustain the drive, but the drive's big play was a 32-yard run by Fred Taylor.
Down 10-7 late in the third quarter, the Jaguars began a drive at their 36-yard line. Leftwich completed a third-down conversion pass to Maurice Jones-Drew, then Taylor gained 15 yards up the middle and the Jaguars appeared to be on the verge of taking control of the game.
On first down at the Texans 28, Taylor hit off left guard and churned for yardage. As he struggled to fight off tacklers, however, the ball came out and the Texans recovered at their 22.
"He didn't secure the ball there. He ran hard today. He was clearly struggling (for yardage). I told him earlier in the game, 'Don't take those extra hits,'" Del Rio said.
Taylor rushed for 84 yards and a 5.3 yards-per-carry average. He was on his way to his best game of the season when the fumble occurred. It was the turning point in the game.
"The game got away from us," Del Rio said of what followed.
Houston began taking advantage of its huge time of possession advantage, as what was the league's worst rushing offense started poking holes in the Jaguars' tired defensive front. Wali Lundy ripped of a 29-yard run, quarterback David Carr gained 12 yards on a naked bootleg to the Jaguars three-yard line and Lundy scored two plays later.
A tired and depleted defense was helpless in the fourth quarter, as Carr added a 14-yard touchdown pass and Kris Brown booted a 21-yard field goal.
The Jaguars, of course, were playing without three defensive stars. Reggie Hayward and Mike Peterson are gone for the year, and Marcus Stroud continues to be sidelined by a severe ankle sprain. Stroud didn't make the trip to Houston; neither did wide receiver Matt Jones (hamstring).
At one point in Sunday's game, the Jaguars defense included four rookies: linebackers Clint Ingram and Brian Iwuh, and defensive tackles Tony McDaniel and Montavious Stanley.
Carr completed 25 of 34 for 224 yards, two touchdowns and a 110.4 passer rating. Lundy rushed for 93 yards and a 4.9 yards-per-carry average. The Texans held the football seven minutes longer than the Jaguars.
The loss leaves the Jaguars at 3-3 and with a trip to Philadelphia directly ahead. The Jags' postseason hopes were dealt a distinct blow.
Asked what the loss means, Del Rio said: "It means we had another stinker on the road," he said, referring to an 0-3 road record this season. "It means we have a lot of football left and a lot of work to do.
"We didn't fill the gaps," Del Rio said of replacing the team's injured players. "We have to make sure we're doing everything in our power to put our guys in position to make plays."
"Ten games to play is too much football to play to sulk," Kyle Brady said.
"That wasn't us out there today. We did absolutely nothing out there," Leftwich added.