After having critical officials calls go against them on consecutive Sundays, the Jaguars had it all their way in the second half of their 30-13 win over the Cincinnati Bengals today at Alltel Stadium.
A controversial pass-interference penalty against Bengals cornerback Artrell Hawkins and a subsequent unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for post-call objections provided the turning point in the game. It moved the ball from the Jaguars' 35-yard line to the Bengals' 13 and three plays later running back Stacey Mack scored on a two-yard touchdown run that gave the Jaguars a 21-13 lead midway through the third quarter.
It was the most important quarter in the Jaguars' season. It was the driving force in ending a five-game losing streak and giving the Jaguars hope for the second half of the season.
"The third quarter was the story," coach Tom Coughlin said. "It was a game we had to have. We were physical. We did a good job up front."
Jacksonville is 3-5 at the midway point in the season. They trail AFC Central leader Pittsburgh by three games, and the Jaguars will try to cut that lead to two games next Sunday against the Steelers at Heinz Field.
"It's worth everything. Winning solves everything," wide receiver Jimmy Smith said.
The third quarter meant that much to the Jaguars' spirits, after a first half that ended with another replay review that went against the Jaguars. Then, it appeared as though they were headed for another week of ill fortune, but it all changed in the third quarter.
"There was relief to win and sincere enjoyment to win and win at home. That's all we're in this business to do, win," Coughlin said.
Coughlin was asked about the game's replay reviews. He applauded the review that overruled the spot of a Jon Kitna quarterback sneak for a first down, and Coughlin praised the replay review that upheld wide receiver Sean Dawkins' catch along the sideline. However, Coughlin took exception to the review that awarded Bengals wide receiver Ron Dugans a three-yard catch at the end of the first half.
"Dawkins sideline, I liked. Whether or not they made the first down, I liked that, too. I like righting the wrongs, yes," Coughlin said. "That's one of those injustices," he said of the Dugans review. "There was no play so they got a chance to review. That's the one I would argue about."
The Bengals were about to attempt a 56-yard field goal when they were flagged for a false start. That penalty gave the replay crew more time to review the Dugans play, and they buzzed referee Terry McAulay for a stoppage of play to begin the review process. Because the ball was not snapped due to the false start, the crew was able to reverse the Dugans non-catch. Kicker Neil Rackers then booted a 52-yard field goal that gave the Bengals a 13-7 halftime lead.
An important metamorphosis would occur in the Jaguars' halftime locker room. They had been dominated statistically in every way. Not even their dependable passing game was effective.
Then, it all changed.
Maligned running back Stacey Mack led the Jaguars offense to a second-half resurgence that swamped the Bengals. Meanwhile, the Jaguars defense was able to finish strong, after two consecutive fourth-quarter collapses.
"It became a time that we had to look into the mirror. We needed to win the second half and get that off our back that we can't beat people in the second half," offensive tackle Todd Fordham said.
"They said 'you gotta keep them off balance. If you want to run the ball, make it happen,'" he added of Coughlin's and offensive coordinator Bob Petrino's halftime address. "When they put it on you to run the ball, you better put up or shut up."
"We found ourselves in a situation that when you lose five games you start looking around for answers. If we lose six in a row, you can kiss the season goodbye," linebacker Kevin Hardy said.
The win boosted the Jaguars' morale to a level that allowed them to consider a reclamation of their playoff hopes.
"You can't give up. You have to believe you're back in the hunt. We control our own destiny," wide receiver Keenan McCardell said.
"We see 'em next week," he added of the Steelers. "We see them, we see Baltimore. The only people we don't see is Tennessee."
Tight end Kyle Brady said the Jaguars should believe Sunday's win is the start of a run to the playoffs. "We're at the halfway point; we're 3-5. It's not what we hoped for, but I was on a New York Jets team that was 2-3 and went to the AFC title game," Brady said.
Cincinnati and Cleveland are tied for third place in the AFC Central with 4-4 records. The Steelers are clearly in the driver's seat, with a 6-2 record and five of their final eight games at home. The Jaguars know any chance they have of competing for the division title or a playoffs wild-card berth demands a win in Pittsburgh next Sunday.