What was 3-1 and a season of unexpected hope has become 3-5 at the halfway point of a season that is in free-fall. When will the Jaguars win again?
Tom Coughlin would love to be able to answer that question but he can only raise more questions. He was at a loss to explain his team's poor performance in the first half of Sunday's 24-17 loss to the New York Giants.
"I don't have any explanation for it," he said. "It didn't matter what they did in the first half. They threw check-downs for 12 yards. (Tiki) Barber ran outside for first downs."
By the time the Giants had completed the rout by scoring a field goal and a touchdown in their first two possessions of the third quarter, which left the Giants to nurse a 24-0 lead, the Jaguars were playing for little more than pride.
At that, the Jaguars were outstanding. They rallied for scoring drives of 61, 67 and 80 yards, and as they prepared to attempt an onside kick with 1:46 to play in the game, they actually entertained the idea of sending the game into overtime.
But the onside kick strategy didn't work.
The Jaguars' plan was to overload the right side of their kickoff line, as though Tim Seder would kick the ball in that direction. Jimmy Redmond was positioned to Seder's left and Seder kicked the ball that way. His pop-up kick was intended to be high enough and short enough for Redmond to run under. But Seder didn't get the kick far enough toward the left sideline.
"There was no quit, but there was not enough," Coughlin said of his team's effort.
After two consecutive ineffective performances following a concussion, quarterback Mark Brunell came to life in the final quarter of the loss to the Giants. Brunell threw for 128 of his 230 total yards passing in the Jaguars' final two possessions.
"We did come back. He brought a dimension to the game where he ran the ball," Coughlin said of Brunell, who scrambled five times for 63 yards.
That led the Jaguars in rushing, on Fred Taylor's worst day of the season. Taylor finished with nine yards on six rushing attempts. He was replaced in the third quarter by Stacey Mack, after Taylor suffered a bruise to his lower back.
"He did not run the ball up in there tonight," Coughlin said of Taylor. "I thought Stacey had more of a downhill look."
Taylor's night went downhill after failing to catch a deep pass Brunell appeared to drop into Taylor's hands in the second quarter.
"The play-makers, like myself, didn't make plays. I probably should've had a touchdown on that deep pass," Taylor said.
Wide receiver Jimmy Smith dropped a couple of passes and evoked this comment from Coughlin: "It wasn't what I'm looking for. Jimmy's capable of much more than that."
There was no shortage of players willing to accept blame. Brunell was first in line, describing his coach's stern postgame lecture as "appropriate."
"We need to stay positive. I'm confident we can turn this thing around," Brunell added.
Smith deemed the defeat "very embarrassing. We just didn't fly around to the ball in the first half and they played faster than we did. We're professionals and we get paid to perform at the highest level, and right now we're not performing very well," Smith said.
The Jaguars were playing without the services of offensive right tackle Zach Wiegert, who will undergo arthroscopic surgery on his injured left knee. Wiegert was replaced by Todd Fordham, who played more than respectably against sack champ Michael Strahan. Strahan's only sack of the game was the result of Brunell leaving the pocket.
Fortunately, Tennessee's win at Indianapolis left the Jaguars one game off the AFC South lead. The Titans and Colts are each 4-4.
"That's getting real old," cornerback Jason Craft said of the weekly "one game out of first" refrain. "I'm getting real sick of that."
Craft didn't play his best game, but he had company in the secondary. When Giants wide receiver Tim Carter sneaked behind the Jaguars secondary to catch a fourth-and-17 pass with 16 seconds to play in the first half, the Jaguars secondary's first-half embarrassment was complete.
"Somebody got out of place. It was an umbrella defense. It should be hard for them to (complete) a long pass," Craft said.
"We weren't aggressive enough against the run and when we were aggressive against the pass, we got caught," rookie linebacker Akin Ayodele said of the problems with the Jaguars' first-half defense.
Problem-solving must begin soon if the Jaguars are to have any hope of reclaiming the promise this season had when it was just one month old.