They score in the first half and grind in the second. For the last two weeks, it's been just the right mix for the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Sparked by Tony Boselli's hustle and cornerback Aaron Beasley's 90-yard fumble return, the Jaguars (7-2) opened another big first-half advantage Sunday and coasted to a 24-11 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals.
Jaguars quarterback Mark Brunell strained his groin and was held out of the second half as a precautionary measure. He wasn't missed against the Bengals (2-7).
Jacksonville took a 24-0 lead in the second quarter, much the same way they got ahead of the Baltimore Ravens 42-7 by halftime last week in a 45-19 victory.
It made for a tedious final 30 minutes, but Jaguars coach Tom Coughlin said that's simply part of getting the big, early lead.
"Offensively, we weren't as consistent as I'd like to be," he said. "There was no continuity. We didn't try to be ultra-conservative. It just turned out that way."
The win extended Jacksonville's lead in the AFC Central to a game-and-a-half over Pittsburgh, which plays Green Bay on Monday. Although they have yet to play the Steelers this year, the Jaguars are 4-0 in the division and have won those games by an average of 30-16.
As they have all year, the bumbling Bengals gave their opponents plenty of help.
| Neil O'Donnell loses control of the ball as he's slammed by defensive end Tony Brackens during the first quarter. (AP) |
After falling behind 17-0, Cincinnati threatened to scratch back into the game when cornerback Artrell Hawkins recovered a Brunell fumble at the Jaguars 40-yard line and took to the sideline. It looked like a sure touchdown, but Hawkins started celebrating too soon.
Boselli, all 330 pounds of him, caught Hawkins at the 15. Six plays later, Joel Smeenge forced a Neil O'Donnell fumble that Beasley scooped up for the longest fumble return in the Jaguars' four-year history.
"I was just running, I saw him pointing at me and I thought I better go tackle him because it would have been kind of embarrassing," Boselli said. "Hopefully, it defines the whole team. We're always trying to play hard, play fast."
Beasley's return gave the Jaguars the 24-0 lead and surpassed the record Donovin Darius set last week with an 83-yard return in the huge first half against Baltimore.
On the next Cincinnati drive, O'Donnell moved the Bengals inside the Jaguars 10, but fumbled the snap on fourth-and-goal from the 3.
The Bengals opened the second half with a 13-play drive that ate up nearly seven minutes, but a holding penalty forced them to settle for a 50-yard field goal from Doug Pelfrey.
"We talk about rhythm all the time and we didn't have it out there," O'Donnell said. "Monday still comes around. We have Minnesota next week and we have to stick together."
Leading 24-3, Coughlin pulled Brunell and the Jaguars simply started working on the clock. Backup quarterback Jamie Martin threw just nine passes and Fred Taylor finished with 118 yards on 27 carries.
"We just felt that we didn't want to take a chance and it would be in our best interest to hold him back because he was sore," Coughlin said.
Before he left, Brunell went 5-for-12 for 111 yards, including an 18-yard touchdown pass to Jimmy Smith for a 17-0 lead in the second quarter.
That play was set up after Zack Crockett deflected a Lee Johnson punt and gave the Jaguars good field position. It was the second punt blocked by a Bengals opponent in two weeks.
The Jaguars opened the scoring on Taylor's 1-yard touchdown run, set up when rookie Alvis Whitted made his first career catch after Hawkins fell down, allowing a 55-yard gain to the Bengals' 1.
O'Donnell finished with 128 yards passing before being replaced by Paul Justin, who threw a 9-yard touchdown pass to Damon Gibson for a meaningless score with 1:55 left.
It was a bad start to the second half of the season, which has been kind to Cincinnati in recent years. They have gone 6-2 over the second half of the last two seasons after starting 1996 at 2-6 and last year at 1-7.
"I didn't have too much to say to the team," said Bengals coach Bruce Coslet. "We can't fall down on a long pass play. We can't allow a blocked punt and we can't fumble the football. So, I give Jacksonville credit, that's it."
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