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Mack was Jaguars' salvation


Cincinnati saw it as their chance to officially announce themselves as a playoff contender, but it turned out to be one more chance for the Jaguars to salvage their season.

Though their pulse is faint, the Jaguars still cling to life in the AFC Central title race and the playoffs chase today as a result of their 30-13 win over the Bengals. As they turn into the second half of the season, they face the biggest game of their season, in Pittsburgh next Sunday, and though that may not be the most attractive of propositions, it's certainly better than the alternative.

The Jaguars have life, and the man who gave it to them is none other than Stacey Mack, who spent the first half of the season absorbing blame for everything from an injured quarterback to fumbles to tipped passes.

"I was dying for a chance to get back in there. I know what I can do. I know I've got ability," Mack said following a 71-yard rushing performance that included two touchdown runs. But there is more.

Mack single-handedly resurrected the Jaguars' slumbering running game. Following a first half that saw the Jaguars rush for a mere 13 yards and lose the time of possession battle by nearly eight points, Mack exploded in the second half for 69 rugged yards that swung time of possession back to a respectable difference.

He averaged 4.7 yards per carry. He outgained Corey Dillon by 13 yards. In the process, Mack regained his coach's confidence.

This week, the Jaguars will take a bonafide rushing attack to Pittsburgh, with or without Fred Taylor, and everyone knows the value of having a running game when you play the Steelers.

"I just let him know I'm taking care of the ball," Mack said of the statement his performance made to coach Tom Coughlin. "I've got two hands on it. I'm more secure with the ball."

He had been benched in Seattle following his second fumble. He was so deep in Coughlin's doghouse that most thought Mack would be cut the moment Taylor returned from his groin injury. Now, it is almost certain that will not occur. Against the Bengals, Mack resurrected his Jaguars career. All of a sudden, he is one of this team's most valuable players. They need him, no more so than next Sunday in Pittsburgh.

"Any time you don't have the run, you're just setting yourself up for failure," Taylor told reporters, "(Mack) never gave up. He worked hard when they moved him to scout team. He always wanted to get back in there.

"He changed the game," Taylor said of Mack.

Yes, he did, and at the most critical juncture in the season. In their halftime locker room, as they assessed the damage of their 13-7 deficit, Coughlin told his offense it would have to establish a running game to have any chance of victory.

"We decided to go with the running game and go with Stacey and he did a good job," Coughlin told reporters of the halftime sermon.

What was the difference? Why had a team that had rushed only seven times for 13 yards in the first half surge to 18 rushes for 82 yards in the second half? Why was a team that was dominated in the first half able to control the action in the second half.

"We RAN," Coughlin said, clearly emphasizing the second word. "We had to rush the ball to create some kind of balance. The answer was the running game."

"You can't win games if your offense is off the field and your defense is on the field that long," tight end Kyle Brady said. "I think it was great they committed to the run at halftime."

It may have been as simple as committing to Mack.

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