Tom Coughlin finally weakened under the strain of the media's weekly question: Were expectations too high?
"Basically, it was comparable to our first year," Coughlin said when asked at today's noon press conference if his roster this season was much better than an expansion team's.
At 5-7, the Jaguars begin a four-game finishing stretch of schedule that could leave the team feeling good about itself into the offseason. Of course, the Jaguars will have to win some of those games to get that good feeling.
But what should've been the realistic expectation for this team? Coughlin and owner Wayne Weaver refused to refer to this season as a "rebuilding year," even though the Jaguars were forced into massive personnel losses by the worst salary cap problem in salary cap history.
Was Coughlin sabotaged by a failure to acknowledge the circumstances for what they were? Did he play right into the hands of those who would have him fired?
"That's just verbiage to me. Those guys in that locker room need to know we can win. I think the fans need to know we can win. Rebuild? I don't think most people want to hear that word," Coughlin told reporters during a lively conversation today.
"At 3-1, the expectations were raised," Coughlin said.
And people began talking about the playoffs.
"I never said that," Coughlin said sternly. "I never fell for that stuff."
Clearly, it was in the coach's head all along that he was facing a year of great challenge. "We have to play very close to perfect," he's said.
Even without having been penalized once or having turned the ball over once against Pittsburgh this past Sunday, the Jaguars lost, 25-23. What does that say about this team's talent level?
But all of the blame is falling on Coughlin. He's being verbally attacked by fans in every possible medium, including a "firetomcoughlin.com" web site.
"Who else are they going to blame? It's OK. I've got big shoulders. I'll accept it and I'll try to accept it like a man," Coughlin said.
He'd like to use what's left of the season to change the perception of this year's team and the future of the franchise.
"I think we can. I think we can do some good things with four games to go. I think we can give a positive statement for the future, based on what we do in these final games," Coughlin said.
"It gives you a great feeling during the offseason; that you're on track," he added of a possible strong finish.
Meanwhile, the quest for a strong finish was bolstered by the report on quarterback Mark Brunell today. Brunell was expected to take 50 percent of the practice snaps, with Kent Graham and David Garrard splitting the other 50 percent.
"It's the soreness in the finger and how well he can react to gripping and throwing the ball," Coughlin said of what will be the determining factors in Brunell's availability for Sunday's game against the Browns. Brunell suffered a lacerated and sprained middle finger on his passing hand when it struck Steelers linebacker Joey Porter's helmet this past Sunday.