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No magic in Houston


This time, there was no magic. Byron Leftwich had no doubt his offense would send the game into overtime, but when Leftwich reached back for his magic wand, it was gone.

Leftwich and the Jaguars had 56 seconds to go 67 yards to send the game into overtime. It was the kind of time/distance combination the Jaguars had routinely overcome through the first half of this season, but this time the ball went 43 yards the other way and the Jaguars were left with a 20-6 loss to the Houston Texans.

"Bad pass on my part," Leftwich said of the interception that resulted in cornerback Demarcus Faggins' interception and subsequent 43-yard touchdown return.

Leftwich was throwing for rookie Ernest Wilford along the left sideline. Eight weeks earlier, Leftwich began this season with a final-play-of-the-game touchdown pass to Wilford that produced a magical ending to the season-opener. But there would be no magic on this day.

Just when it seemed the Jaguars offense was going to graduate to a higher class, it went brain dead; didn't score a touchdown against a Texans defense that had been allowing 22.8 points per game.

"We played a good team and we got beat," Leftwich said.

It was a reasonable answer. The Texans were awfully good and awfully ready to play on this day. They were coming off a bye week. They were rested and ready to go. It's what the Jaguars intend to be when they next play, on Nov. 14 against the visiting Detroit Lions.

Next up for the Jaguars is a well-deserved bye week. This team needs two things: Rest and re-commitment. Through the first half of this season, they played well enough to post a 5-3 record that has them in first place in the AFC South. Now, they have to make a plan that'll carry them the rest of the way, to the playoffs; hopefully, to the division title.

"I think they out-played us, out-coached us today," coach Jack Del Rio said. "Far too many mistakes to overcome. We take pride in playing smart, playing tough. I don't think we were smart enough today."

The Jaguars got behind early and never recovered. The Texans established field position in the first quarter, then converted that field position into an eight-play, 39-yard touchdown drive that was really the only points they would need.

In that drive, Texans quarterback David Carr converted a controversial fourth-and-one play. Carr stretched out the ball as he jumped over the line of scrimmage. He was met and pushed back and fumbled, but it was ruled that he fumbled after the play had been blown dead. Del Rio's protest fell on deaf ears.

The Texans would've gone out to a 14-0 lead had wide receiver Jabar Gaffney not committed an embarrassing gaffe. Gaffney was ruled to have scored on a six-yard end around, but it seemed obvious he had fumbled the ball before he crossed the goal line and, after Del Rio "challenged" the call, it was reversed. The play resulted in a touchback and, all of a sudden, the Jaguars appeared to have brought their magic with them from Jacksonville, but they hadn't.

The Jaguars would be victimized by a trick play midway through the fourth quarter. The Texans, leading 10-3, were lined up to kick a 43-yard field goal, but holder Chad Stanley ran for five yards and a first down and a personal foul against John Henderson moved the ball to the Jaguars' 11-yard line. The Texans eventually settled for a chip-shot field goal that left them with a comfortable 13-3 lead with 6:45 to play in the game.

Leftwich moved the Jaguars to a field goal that cut the deficit to seven points and gave the Jaguars one more shot inside a minute to play, but there would be no rally this time.

"We're 5-3 at the halfway point. You'd like it to be better but it is what it is; take some lessons from the first half and be better in the second half (of the season)," Del Rio said.

The Jaguars will address legitimate concerns during their bye week:

• Balance between run and pass has disappeared. The Jaguars have turned progressively harder to the pass and attempted only 12 running plays against the Texans.

• The defense, though it allowed only 13 points to the Texans (not counting the Gaffney gaffe), surrendered 369 net yards and another high passer rating by an opposing quarterback. Carr was at 109.4. In reverse order, Peyton Manning was 124.7, Trent Green 107.5, Drew Brees 116.0, Manning 99.8. Clearly, the Jaguars pass-defense will get attention during the bye week.

• No sacks on defense left the Jaguars at 12 for the first half of the season. That means the Jaguars are on pace for 24 for the year, which is the same total they posted last season when they had the fourth-fewest sacks in the league.

• The Jaguars have intercepted only three passes this season. That goes directly to turnover differential. The Jaguars are even through eight games and that's a statistic Del Rio would desperately like to change to the plus side.

• Short-yardage offense is also likely to receive attention during the bye week. The Jaguars are less than 50 percent on third-and-one conversion attempts.

Star running back Fred Taylor sustained a hip pointer injury early in the second quarter and was lost for the game. He got only three rushing attempts. Del Rio said he expects Taylor to be fully recovered for the start of the second half of the season, but will the Jaguars reverse the fortunes of their sagging running game?

And what about the defense?

"We don't have the energy we used to have," cornerback Rashean Mathis said.

Defensive tackle Marcus Stroud took exception to questions about the defense's decline. "I gather by these questions that everybody thinks we're going to go into a shell and hang it up, and that's not going to happen," Stroud said.

"They came with a good game plan. Instead of running the ball, they came with quick, short, five-yard passes. That was their running game. Despite all of the yards we gave up, we were still in the game," Stroud added.

"We're 5-3, we're right in the thick of things. There's a lot of football to be played. We are what we are at the halfway point. This is a good division. It's going to require good football to come out ahead in the division," Del Rio said.

At 5-3, the Jaguars are a half game ahead of Houston and Indianapolis, each 4-3. Tennessee is 3-5.

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