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Opportunity lost


IRVING, Texas (Nov. 24, 2002) -- This week, Jaguars coach Tom Coughlin stressed that there was no margin for error. Watching their performance against the Cowboys, you would have thought that was his message after this game, not before it.

Dallas matched their season high in points, beating Jacksonville 21-19. The Jaguars let numerous opportunities slip away. They made costly turnovers and penalties, and they didn't take advantage when Dallas did the same.

Jacksonville's offense started two drives in Dallas territory in the first half. Both resulted in no points. Dallas had gone 34 consecutive drives without scoring an offensive touchdown, before scoring touchdowns on three of four possessions during one stretch of the game. Cowboys rookie quarterback Chad Hutchinson threw for 301 yards, nearly doubling his average of 161 yards a game.

The Jaguars gave up a 99-yard drive for Dallas' second touchdown, the longest-ever against Jacksonville. They missed tackles, resulting in big plays. Fred Taylor rushed for 100 yards, but will be best remembered in this game for his fumble at the Dallas one-yard line that rolled into the end zone for a touchback.

"I'm very disappointed in this, there's no mincing words here." Jaguars coach Tom Coughlin said. "We had penalties, I don't know what that was all about, believe me, I have no idea. We had penalties, we didn't tackle well, we didn't take advantage of opportunities, we turned the ball over, we didn't protect very well."

The first three quarters were a nightmare for Jacksonville's offense. The Jaguars had the ball 10 times during that span. They punted six times, fumbled, threw an interception, missed a field goal after starting a drive at the Dallas 21, and kicked a field goal.

The Jaguars' special teams and defense gave them the first lead of the game. Chris Hanson and Micah Ross teamed up to pin the Cowboys at the six-yard line early in the second quarter. Hanson's punt bounced, and appeared to be headed for a touchback, but Ross leaped into the end zone, grabbed the ball with both hands and tossed it over his head. Cowboys returner Reggie Swinton caught Ross' toss, but was dropped immediately by Wali Rainer.

On the next play, Paul Spicer hit Hutchinson in the end zone, causing him to fumble. The Cowboys' Ross Tucker made the recovery in the back of the end zone for a safety, giving the Jaguars a 2-0 second quarter lead.

Hanson had another outstanding performance, pinning the Cowboys inside their own 12-yard line four times, including three of four punts in the first half.

But the Jaguars could not take advantage of good field position. They had an opportunity to take command of the game after Fernando Bryant stepped in front of Darnay Scott, intercepted Hutchinson's pass and went down the left sideline to the Dallas 21-yard line with 5:26 remaining in the second quarter.

The Jaguars, however, went backwards three yards after the first of two Kyle Brady false starts. Tim Seder then missed a 41-yard field goal. The Jaguars were whistled for five false starts and 11 penalties in all.

On their next possession, Hutchinson hit Galloway on a curl, who slipped the tackle of Jaguars corner Jason Craft and went 43 yards for a touchdown. Craft was there as Galloway caught the ball, but he was unable to wrap up, and Galloway was off to the races.

Jacksonville's offense then put their best drive of the first half together. Brunell completed seven of eight passes, spiking one ball to kill the clock. The Jaguars, however, ran out of time and were forced to kick a 31-yard field goal, to go to the locker room trailing 5-7.

After Jacksonville's first possession of the second half stalled at the Dallas 44, Hanson did it again, hitting a punt that was downed by Rainer at the one-yard line. What the Cowboys did next, however, probably surprised them as much as anyone.

Hutchinson led the Cowboys on a 15 play, 99-yard drive that was capped off by a one-yard touchdown run by Emmitt Smith. Hutchinson hit several big throws on the drive, including an 18-yard completion to Ken-Yon Rambo on third and 11. The drive took more than seven minutes off the clock, and gave Dallas a 14-5 lead.

On the Cowboys' next possession, however, Ainsley Battles intercepted Hutchinson's pass to Rambo and returned it six yards to the Dallas 38. This time, the Jaguars responded.

Mark Brunell's arm, and Fred Taylor's legs got the ball to the eight, and two Stacey Mack runs later the Jaguars were in the end zone for the first time. The eight-play drive drew Jacksonville to within two, 14-12, with 14:16 remaining in the game.

On the ensuing drive, a third down pass from Hutchinson to Rambo burned the Jaguars again. On third and 12 from their 43, Hutchinson hit Rambo on a post, and Rambo took it 47 yards before Marlon McCree could bring him down at the 10. Two plays later, Hutchinson hit Galloway for another touchdown, this one from 11 yards out.

Jacksonville drove right back down the field. Starting from their 28 yard line, the Jaguars used eight plays to drive 58 yards to the Cowboy 14. Then came a play Fred Taylor would surely like to get back.

On second and 10, Taylor took a draw play and sliced his way 13 yards before trying to reach the ball across the goal line, but he lost control of the ball as he tried to extend it. The ball rolled into the end zone where it was recovered by Dallas for a touchback. Jacksonville challenged the call, but lost, costing them a time out.

Had the Jaguars held on to the ball trailing by nine, a field goal would have made it a one-score game. Instead, with 7:39 remaining in the game, the Cowboys had the ball and the Jaguars still needed two scores and had no time outs left. Jacksonville used two time outs earlier to avoid delay of game penalties.

"We had the ball down there, we fumble the ball out of the end zone, we get no points out of it. Even if we don't make it in we get the three points. Now we've got a chance," Coughlin said.

Brunell led another scoring drive late, hitting Kevin Lockett from eight yards out with 1:54 remaining. When their onside attempt was poorly kicked, however, Dallas recovered and ran out the clock.

The Jaguars fall to 5-6, and are now two games behind the Colts (7-4) in the AFC South.

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