CINCINNATI -- So, how would the NFL's worst team blow this one? More goal-line follies? A left-handed pass, perhaps? Maybe a fumble or interception?
Nope. This time, the Cincinnati Bengals flunked math.
Because the Bengals couldn't get the right number of players on the field for a punt return, the Jacksonville Jaguars got the second chance they needed for a 29-15 victory Sunday.
|Jaguars WR Kevin Lockett avoids Takeo Spikes on his way to a 12-yard TD catch.(AP)|
"That was a major error," Bengals coach Dick LeBeau said. "We've got coaches counting, we've got players counting, and we still can't count to 11."
Trying to hold a third-quarter lead, the Bengals (1-13) left 12 men on the field when Jacksonville (6-8) punted into the end zone. The Jaguars accepted the penalty, which set up fourth-and-1, and sent the offense back onto the field.
Stacey Mack ran 8 yards for the first down, and the Jaguars faced fourth-and-6 four plays later. They went for it again, and Jimmy Smith ran past Jeff Burris for a 26-yard touchdown catch.
"I was like, 'What are we saving it for? Let's go out and go for it,'" said Smith, who had seven catches for 98 yards.
The touchdown put the Jaguars ahead to stay and set the Bengals on their way to their 13th loss, tying the franchise record. They've had five 13-loss seasons during their 12-year run as the league's most woeful franchise.
"It always comes down to: We shoot ourselves in the foot," safety Cory Hall said. "You put 12 men on the field -- that's high school, that's college, that's peewee. Every team does it, but when we do it, it's usually at a critical part of the game. It's mind-boggling. It seems like it only happens to us."
The Jaguars were starting to get the same feeling after Tim Couch's last-second 50-yard pass gave the Browns a 21-20 victory in Jacksonville last Sunday, a defeat that turned up the heat on Jags coach Tom Coughlin.
Sunday, Brunell was the coach's biggest ally. He was 19-of-28 for 223 yards with three touchdowns, and he made his coach's fourth-down gambles turn out right.
"I was pleasantly surprised," Brunell said of Coughlin's bravado. "But Tom has confidence in our offense in those critical situations. For us to get a touchdown out of that drive was huge."
Fred Taylor ran for 71 yards and Stacey Mack had a 3-yard TD run early in the fourth quarter, sending fans to the exits.
The Bengals sold only 42,092 tickets for their second-to-last home game, their smallest gate in the stadium's three years. The actual attendance was around 30,000, and most fans were so uninterested that they didn't even bother to stand for the kickoff.
Jacksonville felt right at home in a quiet, half-empty stadium. The Jaguars sold only 46,267 tickets last Sunday for their loss to the Browns.
Much of the game was as sloppy as the grass field, which came out in clumps near the sidelines and made for treacherous footing.
The Bengals' record-tying loss had an appropriately strange ending. Brunell went to his knee on fourth down, the clock ran out and players walked onto the field and shook hands. But the referees realized that the clock should have stopped with 5 seconds left because there was a change of possession.
Players reluctantly shuffled back to the sidelines, the Bengals took a knee and then ran off while a few dozen fans jeered. One fan held up a sign that read, "Mike Brown, Bozo Of The NFL," referring to the Bengals president.
- In 13 career games against Cincinnati, Brunell has thrown 23 touchdown passes, his best total against any team.
- DT John Henderson was credited with half of a sack, leaving him one-half shy of the Jaguars' rookie record. Tony Brackens had seven sacks in 1996.
- Taylor had four catches, giving him a career-high 46 for the season.
- Mack's ninth TD tied his career high.
The Associated Press News Service
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