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Unexplained phenomenon


Their defense had dominated the game. The harder the New York Jets tried, the faster the Jaguars defense turned them away. This one was in the bag, right?


All of a sudden and out of nowhere, a Jets offense that couldn't even manage a first down in four plays in its previous possession was moving the ball with ease. How do you explain that the Jaguars defense allowed the Jets to go 94 yards for the winning score with the game on the line? What possible explanation is there for a game-winning, length-of-the-field touchdown drive with no times out remaining?

They are questions that are becoming nearly impossible to answer. For the third time this season, the Jaguars lost a football game when the opponent scored the winning points in its final possession. A reporter referred to it as "another collapse," to which head coach Jack Del Rio took exception.

"I don't appreciate that word," Del Rio said. "I would say we lost the game. We're learning how to win. Obviously, we haven't learned yet."

All right, it's a young team in the midst of a rebuilding season with an all-new coaching staff and philosophy of operation. Let's not forget that. These things take time.

But here's the rub. This team is truly better than its record. "A whole lot better," Fred Taylor said. "What do you think?" he asked.

Well, yeah, you could make that point. Hey, they absolutely should've won the Carolina and Houston games, and they won the statistical battles against Baltimore and Tennessee, and again today against the Jets.

Yeah, you could make the point that the Jaguars should be 7-4 and in playoff contention. But they're not 7-4 and in playoff contention. They're out of it and hoping only to win some games down the stretch that will help this team hold its head up.

Why is it that way?

That's the question no one can answer.

The answer to that question isn't likely to come this season. One day, the Jaguars will begin winning these types of games and no one will care enough to address the past.

It happened that way in Baltimore just before the Ravens' 2000 Super Bowl season. For a lot of years, the Ravens allowed their opponents to score game-winning, late-game touchdowns. In fact, the Jaguars were the architects of several of those comebacks. Marvin Lewis was the Ravens' defensive coordinator back then, and after one such comeback he stood at his locker stall staring down at the floor and wondering when it would end.

It's that way for Del Rio and his defense this year. In fact, it's been that way for the Jaguars in each of the past four seasons. This team continues to lose leads late in the game, and that has to change because the NFL game is all about protecting leads.

"We had a plan, we stuck to the plan and we didn't get it done," Del Rio said when asked to describe his defensive strategy for the Jets' game-winning drive.

"There's always room for second-guessing when you lose," Del Rio said.

Actually, we might be beyond that. We've been second-guessing for four years. Dom Capers was the defensive coordinator when it started. He passed it on to Gary Moeller in 2001, and Moeller gave the baton to John Pease a year ago.

Maybe the problem isn't strategy. Those guys are all astute defensive minds. So is Del Rio. Maybe the problem is just one of those unexplained phenomenon, and it's grown into a contagion. It's a malaise.

They thought they had corrected the problem two weeks earlier, when they held the lead against Peyton Manning and the Colts. It was the dawn of a new age. Say goodbye to the Jaguars' "learning how to win" ways. But they're back. Say hello to "learning how to win," again.

One day it'll end for good … without explanation.

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