Jacksonville wide receiver Keenan McCardell was busy talking about how "unbelievable" it was that the Jaguars lost to the Tennessee Titans, 33-14, today in the AFC championship game.
"I'm still numb, I'm still shocked," McCardell said 30 minutes after the game.
Then reporters started reciting gruesome statistics to him. Six Jacksonville turnovers. Nine penalties for 100 yards. McCardell seemed to understand better.
"Six--I didn't know we had that many," he said, shaking his head in disgust.
The Jacksonville players found it hard to accept this latest loss to the Titans, who have beaten their Central Division rival four games in a row. This was the same Jacksonville team that posted the best record in the NFL this season, hung a humiliating 62-7 defeat on the Miami Dolphins in the AFC semifinals and was playing on its home field today.
"We had a chance to take advantage of the perfect scenario," Jaguars left tackle Ben Coleman said. "The number one seed and playing at home in front of your fans. That's something you have to take advantage of. We learned when you get to the AFC championship game, you can't turn the ball over."
It wasn't just the turnovers. It was poor decisions with timeouts, poor special teams play and poor tackling. Penalties also hurt the Jaguars.
The Titans, trailing 14-10, took the ball 76 yards in six plays on their first drive of the third period to take the lead for good at 17-14. The drive was helped by Jacksonville, which was called for roughing the passer (15 yards) and pass interference (28 yards).
"We escorted them the length of the field," Jaguars Coach Tom Coughlin said of the two penalties that hurt his team.
The Jaguars also hurt themselves with poor special teams play. After yielding a safety, they trailed 19-14. The Titans' Derrick Mason returned the ensuing free kick 80 yards for a touchdown, making it 26-14 with 4 minutes 56 seconds left in the third period. A fumbled punt set up a Titans field goal in the second quarter.
"We should have had more people upfield on him. He had some time to set up the run with the free kick," said Jason Craft, a reserve cornerback who plays special teams. "He put a good move on me, but at least I forced him inside. There was nobody there to get him. It was a big play. That killed us."
In addition to the miscues, there were other glitches. Jaguars quarterback Mark Brunell misread coverage and threw an interception in the end zone in the second quarter with the score tied at 7.
Brunell, who tried to force the ball into double coverage in the second half to his two biggest threats, McCardell and Jimmy Smith, completed 19 of 38 passes for 226 yards and one touchdown. He also threw two interceptions.
"In a playoff game, you have to close the door," McCardell said. "We gave them opportunities to play. They did not want to play the first half; it was in their eyes. When you give them opportunities, their confidence keeps rising."
The Jaguars also made poor mental decisions that cost them two timeouts, which they needed late in the game.
Coughlin, who has feuded with Brunell in the past, screamed at Brunell from the sideline after the quarterback called the team's second timeout with 5:17 left in the third period and Jacksonville backed up to its 1-yard line.
The Jaguars were down to one timeout and they chose not to use it on fourth and two from the Titans 36 on the last play of the third period. Jacksonville hurried a play in from the sideline, and Brunell threw an incomplete pass to end the last threat by the home team.
"We should have beaten this team twice during the year, but we didn't," Coleman said. "We can believe whatever we want to, but at the same time we should accept reality, and reality is this team has beaten us four consecutive times. They are going to the Super Bowl and we are going home, and that's the reality."