The ball was teasing the Jaguars and their fans, as it teetered in and out of Matt Jones' hands in the back of the end zone. Time stopped. There was a collective silence, then one heartbeat, followed by a thunderous sigh of despair.
Some will say this moment frozen in time may define the Jaguars' season. This, they'll say, is how we'll remember 2008. We'll remember it as the great tease.
Two plays previous, Jones and quarterback David Garrard hooked up to give the Jaguars life. Garrard found Jones over the middle with about 20 seconds to play and, without a time out remaining to stop the clock, Jones knew he had to fight his way across the field to get out of bounds and stop the clock. He did at the Cleveland 26-yard line, giving the Jaguars a breath of hope to make one gigantic play in a game of big plays.
With nine seconds left on the clock, Garrard launched his expected "Hail Mary" pass for Jones, the tallest player on the field. The pass was perfect. The catch was nearly made, three times, before it fell mockingly to the ground.
"It's like you're in a bad dream and you want to run and you can't run. It's a sick feeling," Jones described of reaching up to catch the ball as he fought off the clutches of the defender. "You want to catch it. You want them to throw you the ball and then catch it."
The back left-corner of the south end zone at Jacksonville Municipal Stadium may forever be remembered for Jones attempt to snag victory from the jaws of a 23-17 defeat that leaves the Jaguars in an uphill climb to make it into the playoffs for a second consecutive year. The Jags' season is slipping away and the catch that almost was is symbolic of the team's desperation.
"We're not right and we've got to get right," veteran defensive end Paul Spicer said. "This is what we've earned. This is the hole we've put ourselves in."
It's a 3-4 hole, but it's even deeper than that because all four of those defeats are at the hands of AFC teams. This one really hurts because it gives 3-4 Cleveland the head-to-head tiebreaking edge over the Jaguars. This loss, you could say, counts more than one.
What's not right about this team is pretty obvious. It's not running the ball and not stopping the run, and it's not rushing the passer and not stopping the pass either. On this particular day, it also made two major special teams mistakes.
Fred Taylor began the day needing 43 yards rushing to reach the 11,000-yard mark for his career. Heading into next Sunday's game in Cincinnati, Taylor will need 19 yards to reach that milestone.
The problem in running the ball isn't just a Taylor thing. For the fifth time this season, Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew failed to reach the 100-yard mark combined. The only reason the Jaguars topped 100 yards rushing against the Browns was because Garrard scrambled for 59 yards.
This has become a one-man team. Of the Jaguars' 380 total net yards, Garrard accounted for 342 of them. That's not Jaguars football.
Yeah, Jones could've cancelled all of the gloom and doom had he been able to wake from his nightmare for just a moment and snag that pass out of the night air, the beautifully crisp and clear, late-October sky, but there is no denying that the Jaguars didn't play well enough to win.
They were the first words out of coach Jack Del Rio's mouth when he met with reporters: "Not good enough," he said.