Tom Coughlin called out his offense.
"Any time your defense gives up 13 points, you should win, so I put the blame on the offense," Coughlin said following the Jaguars' 13-10 loss to the previously-winless Buffalo Bills Thursday night at Alltel Stadium.
It was the most difficult of admissions for Coughlin because it was his side of the ball that was the villain in the most recent of the Jaguars' three consecutive losses.
"Different guys aren't producing at the right times. I'll take the blame for it, but people have got to perform in their roles," the coach added.
On this night, his offense was outgained (317 yards to 247) by a Bills unit with a revolving-door offensive line and a quarterback with a reputation for not being able to complete games. This time, former Jaguars quarterback Rob Johnson was there at the end, the clear victor over the quarterback behind whom Johnson served for three seasons.
Johnson was a sparkling 23 of 38 for 238 yards, one touchdown and a 110.1 passer rating. Meanwhile, Mark Brunell struggled to 16 of 26 for 150 yards, one touchdown, two interceptions and a 58.2 passer rating.
Those statistics were the difference in the game, though Brunell's numbers were clearly compromised by an offensive line that allowed him to be sacked four times, and by receivers who tipped two passes into the Bills' hands.
"It's definitely a low point for us, without a doubt. It was a game we had a chance to win and didn't for the obvious reasons," Coughlin said.
Beyond the tale of the two quarterbacks, the Jaguars botched a short field-goal attempt early in the fourth quarter, when center Joe Zelenka's snap went over holder Chris Hanson's head. At the time, Buffalo led, 10-7.
The Jaguars used a short-field possession to tie the game with a 41-yard, Mike Hollis field goal with four minutes to play, but then the defense caved in, as Johnson drove the Bills 48 yards in 10 plays and Jake Arians booted the game-winner from 46 yards.
Did Brunell have any magic left in his arm? We'll never know, because a pass intended for Jimmy Smith over the middle was deflected by running back Stacey Mack into safety Tavares Tillman's hands, killing the Jaguars' last shot at a rally.
"He had no business being there. He was supposed to be down the sideline," Coughlin said of Mack, who had fallen into disfavor with the coach in Seattle when Mack twice fumbled the ball away. "A player was in the wrong position and, for whatever reason, he thought the ball was for him."
Unexplained errors continue to plague the Jaguars. Coughlin stormed the sideline, his frustration growing with each failed possession. In the postgame period, he was a combination of anger and despair.
"It's a low point for me, personally, professionally, in every way," he said.
Brunell was supportive of his teammates, especially Mack. "I'll tell you that it's unfortunate and Stacey Mack is not the reason we lost this football game. There are plays out there that I messed up on and when you lose a game like that, you can go back and look at five plays where we could have made the difference if you had just executed your assignment. I would tell Stacey to keep fighting. I would tell him to learn from it, stay positive and work hard. Just because it happened at the end should not allow us to lay blame on Stacey Mack," Brunell said.
Mack continues to be Fred Taylor's replacement, as Taylor recovers from his week-two groin injury. Following the loss to Buffalo, Coughlin said Taylor would not be able to play in Baltimore a week from this Sunday.
Since Taylor has left the lineup, the Jaguars offense has scored just four touchdowns in four games. They scored three touchdowns in the season-opening win over the Steelers.
Bills rookie head coach Gregg Williams used the same defensive game plan he had used to beat the Jaguars three times in 1999. "They took the deep ball away. They rolled the safety up every time," wide receiver Jimmy Smith said.
Clearly, and especially with Taylor not in the lineup, the Bills focused on stopping the Jaguars' passing attack. Meanwhile, Mack ran for 84 yards and a 5.6 yards-per-carry average, but he had only 15 rushing attempts. The run was open to the Jaguars, but not consistently enough for Coughlin to commit to it.
"We moved the ball, but when we got into the red area we didn't finish it," Smith said.
The Jaguars did nothing offensively in the first half until their final drive. Brunell passed the Jaguars to the Bills 25-yard line, but a first-down pass sailed through the hands of tight end Kyle Brady and into the hands of Bills cornerback Ken Irvin.
With new resolve to start the second half, the Jaguars tore down the field, 76 yards in five plays, with Brunell completing a beautiful 20-yard touchdown pass to Brady, after having scrambled out of the pocket to his left.
Buffalo immediately countered with a 63-yard, nine-play drive that culminated in a 27-yard touchdown pass from Johnson to wide receiver Eric Moulds. That put the Bills back in the lead, 10-7.
The Bills were a team of destiny on this night. Despite a Jaguars-like rash of injuries, and two missed field-goal attempts in the first half, they found a way to score their first win under Williams.
"I thought Rob Johnson played lights out. I thought he did a really good job of directing our team," Williams said of his quarterback.
This was Johnson's finest hour, against the team that traded him away three years ago.