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Stats aside, Jags rely on D

Jaguars coach Tom Coughlin demands the most from his players, but even when they play their best they don't meet his standards.

"Nobody ever plays to my satisfaction ," he said. "Can we play better? We certainly can play better, and hopefully we're about to do that."

Coughlin, however, does find a degree of contentment whenever the subject of Jacksonville's defense comes up. Statistics underline the unit's faults, but Coughlin will tell you the defense has played an integral part in the Jaguars' (11-5) playing host to New England in the AFC wild-card game today.

"Many people want to talk about our defense, and the only thing I'll tell you is what I've told everybody all year, at least 11 times, we've played good enough to win," Coughlin said. "The fundamental bottom line is what's the score.

"We've given up some chunks, but we've done a pretty good job of keeping people out of the end zone."

Chunks? Jacksonville has granted enough patches to resod Central Park. Injuries have taken a toll with seven defensive players on injured reserve this season and eight others on the weekend injury report.

The price has been a statistical whitewash.

The defense is ranked 25th in the league, the lowest of any playoff team. Only once has Jacksonville held an opponent to less than 300 yards this season. Its one sack per 19.23 passing attempts is worst in the league.

Other numbers surely have caught the attention of New England rookie running back Robert Edwards. The Jaguars allowed 125 yards rushing per game this season, and in the past three games the opponents' rushing average is 172 yards.

"I'm not real pleased with the most recent rushing numbers that have come along," Coughlin said. "Yes, I am aware the Patriots have rushed for (an average of) 153 yards in their last three games. Yes, I'm aware of what they're going to try to do, but we're still going to play the game."

So how does Coughlin find hope amid such statistics? In four of the Jaguars' past five games, opponents have an average of 14.5 points. The Vikings hung 50 points on the Jaguars in Week 16, but that was attributed as much to the inexperience of rookie quarterback Jonathan Quinn as it was to the defense.

Perhaps the unit is best typified by its effort in the 21-3 Monday night win against Pittsburgh. Jerome Bettis led a Steelers attack that rushed for 205 yards, but Pittsburgh didn't get in the end zone.

"Jim McMahon, I played with him one year in Green Bay, and he always came with the mantra "statistics are for losers,' " defensive tackle John Jurkovic said. "It really doesn't matter. The bottom line is this team finished 11-5 and the defense was part of an 11-5 football team, so we've got to get some credit somewhere down the line.

"All I know is we're starting to play some of our best football coming down the stretch here as far as keeping people off the board and keeping people out of the end zone."

Here's one statistic Jurkovic might embrace. Jacksonville's red zone defense ranks ninth, having allowed opponents to score only 23 touchdowns in 50 trips inside the 20.

If the Jaguars can slow Edwards and put pressure on backup quarterback Scott Zolak, the bend-don't-break defense may be good enough for another win.

"Most teams can't put 50 points on the board like Minnesota did," Jurkovic said. "Most teams can't execute all night. (Against the Steelers) we got off the field. The bottom line is, the time of year it is, it's a survival time right now. We've got to get off the field any way we can.

"We're going to battle ... our guys are out there scratching and fighting."