They had them right where they wanted them. The Jaguars had just rallied for a 10-10 tie late in the third quarter against their in-state rivals, and the Jaguars defense was playing its best football of the season. But, as has been the case so many times in recent seasons, the fourth quarter did not belong to the Jaguars.
Miami Dolphins quarterback Jay Fiedler connected on a 33-yard, third-and-10 pass to James McKnight on the final play of the third quarter, and the Dolphins capped the drive with a fortunate fumble recovery for a touchdown that turned out to be the game-winning score.
It was, yet, another day of disappointment for the Jaguars, who continue to struggle with fourth-quarter collapses. This time, the blame belonged to the offense, which self-destructed with sloppy play that was symbolic of the entire game. The result was a 24-10 loss to the visitors from Miami, which left the Jaguars at 1-5 heading into their bye week.
"Just turned the ball over too much. They had 17 points directly off those turnovers. That was the battlecry going in: If we win the turnover battle, we win the game," coach Jack Del Rio said.
But the Jaguars clearly lost the turnover battle, losing two fumbles and throwing three interceptions, one of which was returned for an icing-on-the-cake touchdown.
After a spectacular performance the previous week, rookie quarterback Byron Leftwich suffered through a nightmarish day against the Dolphins. Leftwich was 24 of 42 for 256 yards, no touchdowns, three interceptions and a 45.3 passer rating. He scored on an eight-yard run to tie the game, but he also lost a fumble and was sacked four times. Simply put, Leftwich was rough-housed by the Dolphins defense.
But despite all of that, Leftwich was in position to finish a game-tying drive with about seven minutes to play. He faced a third-and-goal at the Miami two-yard line, after having moved the offense quickly from its 16-yard line. Leftwich was in shotgun formation when a low snap from center went between his legs. He recovered the ball at the Miami 13-yard line, but that forced a Seth Marler field goal attempt and Marler's 31-yard try was wide right.
"It looked like a low snap he couldn't handle," Del Rio said of the third-down play. Then, of the field-goal attempt, Del Rio said the snap was high, but "it was put in place nicely" by newly-signed punter/holder Mark Royals.
"I'm not going to play that game with you," Del Rio said when asked if he regretted his decision to make Leftwich the starter over Mark Brunell. "We made a decision to go forward and we're not going to look back and second-guess."
Leftwich wasn't the only Jaguars player who had a bad day. Running back Fred Taylor was ineffective, rushing for 35 yards on 16 carries and committing a fumble on the Jaguars' first possession that resulted in a six-play, 41-yard touchdown drive by the Dolphins.
"You don't start off the game the way I did," Taylor said. "I felt like I wanted to cry on the sideline. I knew going in that's a team that loves to tackle the ball.
"This is a team that's supposed to be in the elite of the AFC. You saw the game. They're not as good as they seem," Taylor added.
The Jaguars defense held the Dolphins to 234 net yards, but didn't get it done with the game tied early in the fourth quarter. After Fiedler's 33-yard pass to McKnight, Ricky Williams reeled off runs of eight, eight and 12 yards to the Jaguars' two-yard line, where the Jaguars defense stiffened. But on third-and-goal at the Jacksonville six-yard line, fullback Obafemi Ayanbadejo was stopped at the two-yard line after catching a short pass. However, Ayanbadejo fumbled and tight end Randy McMichael recovered and stepped into the end zone.
Del Rio challenged the touchdown call, claiming Ayanbadejo's knee had touched down before the ball came out, which would've forced a fourth-down play and a probable field goal attempt. But replay upheld the call.
"Gotta keep choppin' wood," Taylor said, then remembering Thursday morning's incident when punter Chris Hanson suffered a season-ending injury from a locker room ax, Taylor pointed at the tree stump that was still in the locker room and said, "not that wood."
On this day, the ax came down on the Jaguars in the form of a minus-three turnover differential the struggling Jaguars aren't capable of overcoming. You might say they did it to themselves.