One play, a penalty, changed the complexion of the game. How else might you explain what happened following an unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty against Tony Boselli?
The Jaguars scored on the next play, and twice more in the next eight minutes, in a 21-3 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers in today's regular-season opener.
"We turned it on right after the penalty we got," said wide receiver Keenan McCardell, who began the penalty altercation when his head became the subject of Steelers linebacker Earl Holmes' wrath.
Holmes took a shot at McCardell's head, McCardell retaliated, Holmes retaliated with a shove, and Boselli gave Holmes a gentle shove from behind. The big kids always get blamed.
"Earl tried to take a shot at me. It lit a torch under us. We saw what they wanted to do. Now, let's put it to them," said McCardell, who's spent his whole career in the AFC Central, where McCardell has seemingly played against the Steelers every week.
The penalty followed a 14-yard pass completion from Mark Brunell to Kyle Brady. After the march-off, the Jaguars had lost a yard and were facing third-and-13 at the Steelers 34-yard line. That's when Jimmy Smith beat cornerback Dewayne Washington for a touchdown that opened the flood gates: a 15-yard touchdown pass from Brunell to Smith, then an embarrassingly-easy one-yard touchdown toss from Brunell to Damon Jones.
Then it began to rain, hard, and the Steelers washed away quietly as they had five times previously in games at Alltel Stadium.
"What changed the game was our attitude. This is our house and we're going to be physical. They're giving lip service … taking shots at Mark's knees. That's absolutely ridiculous: Going low on Mark; trying to take Keenan's helmet off," Boselli said.
As always, Boselli was at the heart of the Jaguars' effort. Jaguars fans have come to expect that, but this time it was especially impressive, since Boselli was coming off a painful Aug. 19 knee injury that clouded forecasts for his performance today.
"I think everyone panicked except us," Boselli said of forecasters who saw gathering storm clouds in the form of the Jaguars' preseason failures. "It's just a great start. The tone was set from everyone."
At 1-0, the Jaguars have dispensed of the first of three AFC Central rivals who will have visited Alltel in September. After a game in Chicago this Sunday, the Jaguars will host the Titans and Browns.
The Jaguars continued their mastery of the Steelers, who the Jaguars have beaten five times in the last six games between the two teams. This win especially satisfied the Jaguars, who Holmes tormented with threats to "get Brunell."
That's behind the Jaguars, now. So is the preseason. This is a week of feeling good.
"We had 16 starters from last year come back. I could throw names at you guys, and all we hear about is the no-names and we're not what we used to be … that's ridiculous," Brunell said.
Brunell, Smith, Donovin Darius and the Jaguars defense were the stars of the game.
Brunell turned in a workmanlike performance that resulted in three touchdown passes and a 120.4 passer rating.
Smith continues to amaze in his comeback from triple abdominal surgery last spring. He caught eight passes for 126 yards and three touchdowns, and made the biggest play of the game when he beat Washington on a double-move, out-and-up route.
Darius blocked a Josh Miller punt that resulted in a short-field, touchdown possession by the Jaguars. Darius also intercepted a Kordell Stewart pass in the Steelers' desperate final minutes of the game.
Meanwhile, the defense, which became a source of great concern during the preseason, held the Steelers to 120 yards rushing, including a meager 28 yards by Jerome Bettis, and sacked Stewart three times. The defense's effort came on the heels of a preseason of complaints about new defensive coordinator Gary Moeller's scheme.
"We know as professionals that no matter what the scheme, we have to execute it," Darius said.
"The weather was a factor. The first two drives, they were sucking wind. We wanted to make it an up-tempo game. We wanted to keep them on their heels. You don't want it to be a close game against the Pittsburgh Steelers," Smith said.
Fred Taylor was the only Jaguars player who expressed disappointment. Taylor finished just four yards shy of a 100-yard game, but he claimed to have been off his game.
"A couple of times, I was one-on-one and I should make those guys miss. I'm rusty. I wish I had them back. I was so disappointed," he said.
Everything else about this win was extremely encouraging.
Vic Ketchman is the Senior Editor of Jaguars Inside Report, the official team newspaper of the Jacksonville Jaguars. One-year subscriptions may be purchased by calling 1-888-846-5247.