One of the most entertaining preseason games in Jaguars history featured the triumphant return of Jimmy Smith, the resurrection of the Jaguars passing attack, desperate and spirited efforts to earn roster spots, and a game-winning, goal-line stand by the Jaguars' defensive reserves.
You would think coach Tom Coughlin would've been delighted by the Jaguars' 28-23 win over the visiting Kansas City Chiefs Thursday night, however, Coughlin admitted to having major concerns for the performance of his team.
"There are some negatives. We didn't stop the passing game and we didn't run the ball," Coughlin said.
The Jaguars' greatest disappointment is that their first team offense and defense produced a 20-7 deficit by halftime, and the statistics were even more troubling. The Jaguars defense allowed 231 yards passing in the first half, and rushed for a mere 18 yards.
"I'm not very happy about it," Coughlin said of his pass-defense, which was shredded by starter Trent Green for 166 yards, and by backup Todd Collins for 133 yards. And this was on the heels of an embarrassing performance against Giants wide receiver Joe Jurevicius a week earlier.
Yes, the Jaguars have major concerns on defense.
"You've got to get the other guy off the field. That was a team that decided to come in here and work on its passing game. I'm concerned," Coughlin said.
The Chiefs completed 36 of 54 passes for 373 yards and two touchdowns. Every Jaguars starting defensive back was victimized; strong safety Donovin Darius twice for touchdowns.
Coughlin may have been especially angered that such a poor pass-defense effort came on the heels of recent player comments that suggested disapproval of new defensive coordinator Gary Moeller's coverage schemes and questioned the players' specific roles.
"I don't think that has anything to do with it. The coverage calls weren't that much different than what we've done in the past. The pass coverage isn't good enough and it doesn't do any good to talk about roles," Coughlin said.
So, the Jaguars' reserves came to the rescue. They turned a dismal performance into a rousing win. They made the big plays, including a forced fumble by rookie Marlon McCree, who may be on his way to earning the starting free safety job.
"I played good at the end. I've got to do better recognizing pass routes by the wide receivers. I try to stand out every time I go out onto the field," said McCree, a seventh-round draft choice who dresses at an auxiliary locker stall in the middle of the Jaguars locker room.
"These are the guys who aren't supposed to make the team," McCree was informed.
"I know," he said.
McCree forced a fumble by quarterback Bubby Brister that linebacker Joseph Tuipala recovered at the Jaguars 42-yard line. On the next play, quarterback Jamie Martin hit wide receiver Alvis Whitted with a pass that Whitted turned into a 58-yard, game-winning touchdown play.
Tuipala, Whitted and Martin are clearly players fighting for their roster lives. There were others who also distinguished themselves:
• Quarterback Jonathan Quinn threw a 33-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver R. Jay Soward.
• Defensive end Paul Spicer made two sacks, the second of which kept Brister from attempting a Hail-Mary pass on the final play of the game.
"Spicer's two sacks; you can't deny that. The kid has a terrific motor," Coughlin said.
The game's greatest drama occurred at the Jaguars goal line with less than two minutes to play. On consecutive plays, reserve linebacker Danny Clark made the game-saving stop, twice halting reserve running back Frank Moreau for no gain. The first of those stops was supported by replay review.
If it had been a regular-season or playoff game, it would've been judged to have been a classic. That's how good it got in the second half.
And there was a subplot that tugged at the heart and moistened eyes with joy. In his first action since triple abdominal surgery that threatened a lot more than his football career this past spring, Jimmy Smith led all Jaguars receivers with five catches for 78 yards and one touchdown. Of course, that score, the result of a perfect 27-yard lob down the right sideline from Mark Brunell, was Smith's first catch of the night.
It was great theater. It was vintage Smith.
"That's real special to be able to come back from a long and tough offseason. The way I look at it is it's another chapter in the book, and it's another obstacle I've overcome," Smith said.
An Alltel Stadium crowd of 48,623 loved Smith's heroics, though they've come to expect as much from their star wide receiver. Smith cautioned against that.
"Once they see 82 on the field, they expect to see me where I left off last season. I'm not the old Jimmy Smith, yet," he said, but he wasn't convincing.
Meanwhile, Coughlin didn't have to try hard to convince reporters that the Jaguars, who are 2-1 heading into their final preseason game in Dallas next Thursday, have problems.
"I was very disappointed in our first half; our inability to stop the other guy, and our inability to move the ball or run the ball at all. They are not good signs," Coughlin said. "If we don't do something about it, we'll have a difficult time in the regular season."
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.