A week after the most dreadful performance of his career, Brunell threw a career-best four touchdown passes -- one in each quarter -- for a 34-17 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals Sunday.
Jacksonville improved to 9-3 for the first time in its four-year history and opened a two-game lead in the AFC Central, which the Jaguars have never won. Three of the Jaguars' last four games are at home, where they've gone 5-0 this season.
One week earlier, the Jaguars blew a chance to open a three-game lead when Brunell threw three interceptions -- Dewayne Washington returned two of them for interceptions -- in a 30-15 loss in Pittsburgh.
"I certainly was bothered by it -- three interceptions, two of them for touchdowns," Brunell said. "There are going to be days like that. What's important is how you bounce back from that."
| The Jaguars were able to force Bengals QB Paul Justin (10) to be benched in favor of Neil O'Donnell. (AP) |
The Bengals lost their seventh consecutive game and fell to 2-10 for the first time since 1994. They changed quarterbacks -- Paul Justin gave way to Neil O'Donnell after a first-half interception -- but wound up derided by the crowd of 55,432, which booed repeatedly and waved anti-Bengals banners.
A profane chant against general manager Mike Brown filled Cinergy Field after a security official confiscated a banner that read, "Mike Brown Step Down."
The mood got uglier as the game wound down. The few thousand remaining fans jeered as the Bengals left the field.
"That's probably to be expected," coach Bruce Coslet said. "I don't feel good about it myself. How do you think I feel? How do you think the players feel? Maybe it's not worth it to us, either."
With that, Coslet cut off his postgame interview.
The Jaguars' running game ground to a halt in the first quarter after two-time Pro Bowl tackle Tony Boselli and running back Fred Taylor got hurt on the same play. Boselli sprained his ankle and Taylor banged up his left shoulder.
Taylor could have returned in the second half, but coach Tom Coughlin kept him on the sideline as a precaution. Coughlin said there was no way to tell about Boselli's prospects.
The injuries put the onus on Brunell, who was off-target at times but made the clutch throws against the NFL's lowest-ranked defense.
"We really needed to do that," Coughlin said. "We needed to gain some confidence back."
The four touchdown passes were a franchise record and gave Brunell 20 for the season, also a club record. He might have had a fifth, but an open Jimmy Smith dropped a long pass down the sideline late in the first half.
Brunell threw touchdown passes of 21 yards to Smith in the first quarter, 8 yards to McCardell in the second, 3 yards to McCardell in the third and 1 yard to Damon Jones in the fourth. He completed 19-of-35 for 244 yards without an interception.
Smith had seven receptions for 110 yards as the two wide receivers made one tough catch after another -- three of the touchdown passes came on third down and the other was on fourth down.
"We knew we'd have to step up when Freddy and (Boselli) went down," McCardell said. "Me and Jimmy think we're two of the best. It's just a matter of getting opportunities."
It was another poor offensive day for the Bengals, who gave Justin his second consecutive start. Justin completed 4-of-7 for 31 yards and threw an interception directly to inebacker Kevin Hardy as Cincinnati fell behind 17-0.
O'Donnell relieved him midway through the second quarter and produced a touchdown for the first time in his last 20 series, Brian Milne's 1-yard run. His 7-yard touchdown pass to Tony McGee cut it to 20-17 in the third quarter.
But O'Donnell had two turnovers in the fourth quarter -- his tipped pass was intercepted by Chris Hudon and he fumbled a snap from center -- to end the comeback. O'Donnell completed 20-of-36 for 203 yards.
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