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This loss was crushing


It has traditionally been their Armageddon month. This October may be no different.

But it didn't begin that way. It began with the most impressive of victories; a triumph over the Eagles on Oct. 6 that left the Jaguars at 3-1 and on the verge of becoming one of the surprise stories of this NFL season.

Now, after consecutive losses to Tennessee, Baltimore and Houston, the Jaguars are 3-4 and in danger of falling to the level predicted for them in the preseason.

This team is in trouble this week, following a 21-19 loss to the expansion Texans. To a man, they claim to have reached a low point today, but did they? We can only hope this will prove to be the low point in their season.

For the third consecutive year, this team has produced a major October losing streak. In the 2000 and '01 seasons, that losing streak reached five games. At three and counting, the Jaguars must do something to stop the bleeding because division title contenders are seldom the products of five-game losing streaks.

"We played teams on paper we should beat -- Tennessee, Baltimore and Houston -- and we didn't get it done," wide receiver Jimmy Smith said. "This is a low point. Our only option is to come out and fight."

The air was full of frustration as the Jaguars left the field on this muggy late-October night. Coach Tom Coughlin said a fan spit on him and exclaimed "that was pathetic." Coughlin obviously agreed with the fan's assessment of the Jaguars' performance because moments later Coughlin used those exact words in his postgame address to his players.

"That's the nature of where we are right now. It was pathetic. It should have been a win. That's two weeks in a row it should've been a win," Coughlin added.

Pain was etched on the coach's face. He usually begins his postgame address to the media with a lengthy recount of the game's events. Today, there was no such address. Coughlin merely opened the session to questions, the first of which was: "How frustrated are you by this loss?"

"As frustrated as I've ever been in my life," Coughlin said.

There was genuine hurt in his voice. He had his heart set on a home win that would put his team back over .500 and allow it to make a midseason move on the AFC South lead.

This was a crushing defeat; maybe the most crushing regular season defeat of his head coaching life. This one is about more than "remorse for opportunity lost," as Coughlin has typically described defeat. This one reached beyond the won-lost record all the way to Coughlin's soul.

Immediately, he had to brace himself for another week of criticism for clock management problems at the end of the first half and in the final minute of the game. Conventional football strategy would've had the Jaguars spike the ball on third down to stop the clock and allow new kicker Tim Seder more time to carefully aim his 35-yard field goal attempt. Common final-minute strategy would also demand that Mark Brunell spike the ball to stop the clock with 57 seconds to play following a pass for a first down at the Houston 45-yard line.

Instead, the clock ran in each instance. Seder missed and Brunell was sacked on consecutive plays, the clock winding down from 57 seconds to seven seconds remaining before Brunell took a third-down snap.

And there was the matter of failed recognition of a critical and obvious change in punt-return personnel by Houston. Jermaine Lewis was replaced by Jabbar Gafney and Aaron Glenn and those two produced a 47-yard "Music City Miracle" kind of play that left the Texans with nothing more to do than boot a 45-yard, game-winning field goal.

The Jaguars locker room emptied quickly. It happens that way in all NFL locker rooms following an especially bitter defeat.

"This is embarrassing. Same old stuff. Finding ways to lose. It's ridiculous," cornerback Fernando Bryant said.

Now we have to ask: Will this team be able to recover from such a crushing defeat?

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