The Jacksonville Jaguars were ugly and boring on offense and they seemed to have the perfect excuse: Fred Taylor was injured.
But that couldn't fully explain the worst offensive performance in team history, one that resulted in perhaps their most hollow victory ever, a 6-3 win over the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday.
The Jaguars improved to 8-1, the best record in the NFL, despite producing just 132 yards and nine first downs. They lost Taylor in the first quarter when he reaggravated his ailing hamstring.
"With Fred, you can say what you want," offensive lineman Tony Boselli said. "But it's a team game. No one guy determines how this offense plays. The bottom line is, anyone walking around in this room can tell you we got whipped. Fortunately, our defense whipped them."
Indeed, Jacksonville's top-ranked defense held Baltimore (3-6) to 242 yards and just three scoring opportunities.
The last came with Baltimore trailing 6-3 late in the fourth quarter. Tony Banks drove the Ravens to the Jaguars 34, but coach Brian Billick passed on a 52-yard field goal attempt by Matt Stover and Gary Walker sacked Banks on fourth-and-3.
"None, none," Billick replied when asked if he considered going for the field goal.
The result was Baltimore's fourth loss in five games and its third this season by a field goal.
"For whatever reason, we are short by one thing," Billick said. "There's plenty of effort there. We are that one thing short. I I knew what that one thing was, I would change that. But we will have to figure that out individually."
Their offensive woes came in part because of Bryan Barker, whose punts forced the Ravens to start eight drives inside their own 20.
Working in bad field position, the Ravens managed just 13 first downs and converted just two of 14 third downs.
"I kept telling the offense in the second half, `It's only going to take one drive and we can win this football game,"' Banks said. "But we had to make a big play and we couldn't."
They weren't alone.
Jacksonville won on a pair of 28-yard field goals by Mike Hollis.
The winning score came late in the third quarter, after a 15-play drive that covered 49 yards and didn't include a play of longer than nine yards.
The tedium persisted and midway through the fourth quarter, an anxious crowd showered coach Tom Coughlin with boos when he called a plunge into the line on third-and-5, apparently happy with another field goal attempt from the Ravens 18.
Hollis made his first attempt, but had it nullified due to a holding penalty on Kevin Hardy. A second kick also went through, but it didn't count because a Ravens defender jumped offsides, prompting a whistle before the snap. Finally, a kick that counted sailed wide right and the Jaguars were left to protect their three-point lead.
The sequence served as a microcosm for a game filled with frustration for both teams, at least both offenses.
It could stay that way for the Jaguars without the injury-prone Taylor, who has made it through only three complete games this season.
He went down without contact late in the first quarter after rushing seven times for 12 yards. Taylor will undergo tests Monday on the same left hamstring that kept him out of three games last month.
"I'm hoping it's just a sharp pain, nothing serious," Taylor said. "The doctors are hoping it's just scar tissue. I'm hoping it's just scar tissue."
Taylor returned from injury two weeks ago and cracked the 100-yard mark both times, giving defenses a genuine big-play threat to worry about.
Without him, the Jaguars turned to James Stewart, who finished with 25 yards on 18 carries and gave the Ravens no reason to fear the run.
With Jimmy Smith and Keenan McCardell locked up in double coverage most of the game, Mark Brunell finished 20-for-29 for 118 yards. The Jaguars went wthout a touchdown for the first time in two seasons.
It put the defense in a position where it had to win the game.
It did, adding four sacks to its league-leading total and staying in line to set the NFL's 16-game record for fewest points allowed. Through nine games, the Jaguars have allowed only 79, keeping them ahead of the pace set by the 1986 Chicago Bears, who gave up 187.
"Whether it's 3-0, 2-0, 6-3, I don't care," Walker said. "A win is a win. We're 8-1 and nobody else in the league can say that right now."
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