A season that included two heart-stopping defeats before the Jaguars had played five games, was punctuated today by one of the wildest plays in NFL history. The first season in this "New Era of Jaguars football" has certainly not passed quietly.
It took the New Orleans Saints one pass, three laterals and a tense review period to score what appeared would be a game-tying touchdown. But kicker John Carney only needed a moment to shank his extra-point attempt and cancel the Saints' final-play-of-the-game dramatics, leaving the Jaguars to cling to a 20-19 victory.
Had it been a playoff game, it would've earned a place alongside the "Immaculate Reception" and the "Music City Miracle." As it stands, it will live forever as one of the most memorable plays in Jaguars history.
"The only thing missing was the band," Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio said, referring to the Cal-Stanford play of college football lore, which ended with a Cal player running through the band and into the end zone.
This one didn't include as many laterals and lacked a band, but Jerome Pathon's dash in covering the final 21 yards to the end zone was very reminiscent of the Cal-Stanford play. Oh, Cal-Stanford didn't have replay review, though.
Referee Gerry Austin came out from under the "hood" and told what was left of the Alltel Stadium crowd that all passes were backward or lateral, and the ruling of touchdown would stand. At particular issue was Donte Stallworth's lateral to Michael Lewis at the Jaguars 33-yard line. It was real close to being forward.
The play began with seven seconds left and the Saints at their 25-yard line, trailing 20-13. Quarterback Aaron Brooks threw to Stallworth, who managed to elude the intended tackles of Fernando Bryant and Deke Cooper. The journey was about to begin.
Stallworth raced left across the field, looking for someone to whom he might lateral the ball. He found Lewis at the 33, then Lewis found Deuce McAllister, who found Pathon.
The Saints came into the game clinging to slim playoff hopes, but they appeared to be destiny's darlings, until Carney shanked his kick. Their playoff hopes sailed wide-right.
It was a game of mystifying mistakes and decisions.
• Jaguars rookie kicker Seth Marler had a 21-yard field-goal attempt that would've iced the win blocked. It's almost as though Marler and Carney traded missed extra points.
• Del Rio decided to go for a first down on fourth-and-one, instead of trying a 42-yard, downwind field goal in the third quarter. The Saints did the same on fourth-and-two in the second quarter. Each decision met with failure.
• Leading 10-3 with 4:18 to play in the first half, quarterback Byron Leftwich had a first-down pass from the Jaguars' nine-yard line intercepted. It allowed the Saints to tie the game.
Why were the Jaguars passing the ball, especially with Fred Taylor gouging the Saints in the running game?
"Good question," Del Rio said. "I didn't think that was a wise decision. I asked the same question … when we have a guy running effectively. We were talking about staying aggressive. When you do that there are going to be circumstances and that's one of them, and you have to answer for it."
Del Rio sounded as though he regretted the fourth-and-one call, too. He said he was persuaded to go for the sticks by offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave. "I preached staying aggressive, and he was," Del Rio said.
Leftwich threw two interceptions in the first half, which made it four interceptions in his last three quarters. But the rookie also pitched a 14-yard touchdown pass to LaBrandon Toefield that gave the Jaguars a 10-3 lead.
Taylor and the Jaguars' run-defense were the stars of the game. Taylor rushed for 194 yards on 34 carries, and the Jags defense held the Saints and the NFC's leading rusher, McAllister, to 61 yards on 25 carries. The Jaguars rushed for an impressive 243 yards.
"Any time you're able to overcome turnovers, run the ball the way we did and stop the run the way we did … I think that's a great foundation to build on," Del Rio said.
This was a game that was built on the foundation of two replay-review calls, too. The second one was the final-play touchdown; the first involved a third-and-goal pass with 2:16 to play.
Jaguars cornerback Fernando Bryant was flagged for pass interference on a pass Brooks intended for Lewis. The penalty would've given the Saints a first down at the Jaguars one-yard line, but Del Rio "challenged" the call. Del Rio claimed the ball had been tipped by Donovin Darius, and replay clearly showed it had.
"That was an easy call," Del Rio said.
But the hard part, for Saints coach Jim Haslett, was that replay indicated Bryant had interfered with Lewis prior to Darius tipping the ball. Haslett contended that the penalty should've stood; it didn't.
On the next play, fourth-and-goal from the nine, Brooks threw incomplete for tight end Boo Williams.
"It just proves every play is important in this league," Del Rio said.
At 5-10, the Jaguars will conclude this first season in "new era" history in Atlanta next Sunday.