All of a sudden, he wasn't getting the ball.
Stacey Mack finished the first half with 123 yards rushing, 9.5 yards per carry, no less. On the sideline, Fred Taylor remarked to Mack, "'As long as you don't break my record.' I was going for it," Mack said of Taylor's 234-yard, single-game rushing mark.
Mack thought he was on his way toward a 200-yard game, then, he became an afterthought in the Jaguars offensive attack. He carried the ball only three more times in the game, leaving everyone to wonder, "What happened to Stacey Mack."
No, he hadn't been injured. He just, simply put, disappeared from the game plan.
"We ran the ball well in the first half. We got down by 10 and didn't have as many run numbers in the second half," coach Tom Coughlin explained, as Coughlin attempted to make sense of a 30-26 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in the Jaguars' 2001 home finale today.
"For a period of time, our mix wasn't very good. We were three-and-out. We didn't want to get away from the run. Some of the runs in the first half were checks by the quarterback," Coughlin added.
Two three-and-out series in the third quarter pushed the panic button in the Jaguars' play-calling. After the second third-and-out series, the Chiefs drove 73 yards in four plays and took a 27-17 lead with 3:30 to play in the third quarter, and Taylor's record was, indeed, safe.
The Jaguars' hard shift away from Mack and the running game left Mack and his offensive linemen to scratch their heads, look away and choose their words carefully.
"First half, what did we do?" tackle Todd Fordham asked. "We were moving the ball. They weren't stopping us."
"They obviously saw some things in the second half where we could've thrown the ball more," rookie tackle Maurice Williams added.
Mack was less evasive. He wondered out loud.
"I wondered why we stopped running the ball. That's what the line wanted to do," Mack said.
The Jaguars bid farewell to the home folks with a performance that was symbolic of their season. The Jags teased the crowd, at times, by making plays that were breathtaking, only to fall short when it was time to make that one play that would spell victory.
Mack took off on a 54-yard run in the second quarter. It led to a 17-14 lead that made it clear the Jaguars were in control of the action. But they weren't.
Mark Brunell moved his offense 77 yards in eight easy plays, cutting the Chiefs' lead to 27-24 early in the fourth quarter, and everyone believed the Jaguars would rally to take the lead. But they didn't.
It was somewhat of a repeat performance; so impressive at times, yet, not good enough to claim victory.
"Difficult game to come away from … it was a game we could've won," Coughlin said in a postgame lament that would apply to no less than eight of the Jaguars' nine losses.
How do you explain the ways in which this team has snatched defeat this year? How do you explain:
• A 12-men-on-the-field penalty on a punt-return play in the first half? The penalty produced a first down for the Chiefs and led to the Chiefs' second touchdown of the game, tying the score at 14-14.
• Defensive tackle Gary Walker losing his cool and punching a fallen Chiefs blocker on the second play of the second half, resulting in Walker's ejection from the game?
• A delay-of-game penalty on fourth-and-four at the Chiefs' 15-yard line with just under two minutes to play? Brunell's next pass, a seven-yard completion to Jimmy Smith, came up two yards shy of a first down.
A week from now, the Jaguars will bury this season in Chicago. With it, the Jaguars will bury theirs and their fans' frustrations, and answers for which we have spent a season searching.
We've beat ourselves up enough. It's time let it pass.