It was a subtle but scrumptious ending for the Jacksonville Jaguars and their fans.
Thirty-one seconds remained against that other expansion team, the Carolina Panthers. Jacksonville was 5 yards from a touchdown. It was second-and-goal.
The Jaguars didn't run and they didn't pass. They took a knee.
It was the only merciful thing they did all day.
The Jaguars delivered their 24-14 win Sunday with brutal authority, unleashing their frustration and resentment on the Panthers.
``We played angry,'' said Jacksonville offensive tackle Leon Searcy. ``We were fed up.''
Carolina this. Carolina that.
The Jaguars had heard enough, so they shoved the Panthers off their unbeaten pedestal.
Carolina fell to 3-1. Jacksonville (2-3) ended a three-game losing streak and might be ready to start a roll with its next two games against winless opponents (Saints and Jets). The Panthers face another tough road game next week against the 4-1 Minnesota Vikings.
``Jacksonville has been kicked for so long. It was like when you back a cat into a corner and it wants to come out fighting,'' said Panthers linebacker Lamar Lathon.
``You could feel the energy they had from the first play. I knew it would be a long day for us, but I didn't realize it would be this kind of day.''
It was a horrible day for Carolina, as opposite as it could be from their 23-7 win over the San Francisco one week earlier.
Running back Tshimanga Biakabutuka watched the second half on crutches from the sidelines after suffering a left knee injury that might be serious. A magnetic resonance imaging exam today will determine whether he suffered ligament damage.
The offensive line was dominated by Jacksonville's defense front, allowing five sacks and countless knockdowns of quarterbacks Steve Beuerlein and Kerry Collins.
Carolina's proud defense was dented by a 179-yard rushing performance by a Jaguars team that entered the game ranked 28th in that category.
The heat (100 degrees on the field) and humidity dehydrated tackle Mark Dennis, guard Frank Garcia and fullback Howard Griffith so much all three spent part of the game in the locker room receiving fluids intravenously.
Kicker John Kasay's perfect streak ended not only with a missed field goal, but a missed extra point.
Drives by the Panthers offense to the Jaguars 17, 1 and 27 in the first half resulted in no points because two fumbles and Kasay's first unsuccessful field goal in 14 attempts.
The blown scoring chances resulted in a 17-0 halftime deficit, which the Panthers couldn't overcome in the second half.
``You can't go on the road and make mistakes and still expect to win,'' said Carolina coach Dom Capers. ``We're disappointed in the way we played today. We played a team that outplayed us.''
Lathon put it this way: ``We went up against a team that was operating on a totally different level. Emotionally, they were on another level from us and there's no denying it.''
The Jaguars were stinging from three consecutive losses and had a rowdy home crowd of 71,537 behind them. The Panthers were coming off a thrilling win over the 49ers and didn't play with the same zest.
``Last week's game was emotionally and physically draining. I think some of the guys felt it today,'' Lathon said. ``That kind of took a lot out of us. But we won't use that as an excuse. Hopefully, we'll get our edge back now.''
The Jaguars took control by driving 59 and 68 yards for touchdowns on their first two possessions. They mixed Mark Brunell's passing with the running of James Stewart and Harrisburg native Natrone Means.
Stewart scored the first touchdown on a 1-yard run. Jimmy Smith scored the second on an 8-yard pass from Brunell.
Mike Hollis' 53-yard field gave the Jaguars a 17-0 lead at halftime.
Carolina's chances to make a game of it died with their three consecutive missed opportunities:
Their drive to the Jaguars 17 ended when rookie defensive end Tony Brackens roared past the offensive line, knocked the ball out of Beuerlein's hand and recovered the fumble.
Their drive to the 1 ended when halfback Anthony Johnson, subbing for Biakabutuka, never received the handoff from Beuerlein. Brackens again recovered the fumble.
``I take full responsibility for it,'' said Johnson. ``I didn't get my elbow up high enough. The ball barely knicked my elbow (when Beuerlein was making the handoff) and I never had control of it. It's a terrible feeling. You don't ever want to let your team down.''
Next came Kasay's missed 45-yard field goal.
The Panthers' finally capitalized in the third quarter after safety Brett Maxie intercepted Brunell at the Jacksonville 39.
Carolina cut the Jaguars' lead to 17-6 on a 24-yard touchdown pass from Beuerlein to Mark Carrier. Kasay missed the extra-point attempt.
The Jaguars clinched the win with a clutch a 15-play, 80-yard touchdown drive that lasted almost 8 minutes. Jacksonville converted third downs into first downs three times and scored on Stewart's 4-yard run.
Carolina closed out the scoring on a 3-yard touchdown pass from Collins to Carrier. Collins, playing for the first time in three weeks, entered with 5:41 remaining after Beuerlein left with leg cramps and a sore left knee.
It was clearly Jacksonville's day, but there was some sentiment in the Panthers' locker room that they hadn't placed as much importance on the game as the Jaguars.
``This was their Super Bowl,'' said wide receiver Willie Green. ``Our Super Bowl is in January. This is something they'll always remember here. Us having a winning season is what we'll remember.''
But the Panthers won't soon forget the worn and wounded way they limped away from Jacksonville Municipal Stadium.
Neither will the Jaguars.
They ran off the field holding their helmets high as their fans cheered. The Kool and the Gang song ``Celebration'' blared from the stadium loudspeakers. Coach Tom Coughlin smiled and tipped his cap to the crowd.
``We were the better team,'' said Jaguars wide receiver Andre Rison. ``That was obvious.''