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An 'elite' performance

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It was more than a victory celebration. It was also a graduation ceremony, of sorts, with Byron Leftwich receiving a diploma with 45 seconds remaining in the Jaguars' 22-16 win over the Kansas City Chiefs.

To what grade did Leftwich graduate? How about the grade of "elite quarterback?" Is that an exaggeration?

Well, let's put it this way: What Leftwich did to the Chiefs on Sunday afternoon is what we expect of elite quarterbacks. He played error-free football. He threw for a lot of yards (298) and two touchdowns. Most of all, he moved his team down the field at crunch time with a precision reserved only for the best at their trade.

Leftwich had already done the crunch-time thing two other times this season, but they were not precision-like drives. The last-drive touchdown in Buffalo was sort of clumsy and relied on a "Hail Mary" type pass to Jimmy Smith, and the game-winning drive in Tennessee required a pass-interference penalty at the goal line.

This drive was a thing of beauty. It began with only 2:16 to play in the game. The Jaguars trailed by two points, so all Leftwich needed to do was move his offense into field goal range, but he did much more.

He completed seven of his eight pass attempts; never saw a third-down play. The Chiefs didn't have a chance. The kid chewed them up much as Peyton Manning had in last year's playoffs.

It only took Leftwich a minute and 31 seconds to move the Jaguars from their 33-yard line and into the Chiefs end zone. His performance was breathtaking, and he did it on one leg and with a sore shoulder.

Rally the Jaguars to the winning touchdown? He probably shouldn't have even been in the game.

"He has the will to win. He's a warrior. When the game is on the line, I believe in my quarterback. I wish you could see him in the huddle," Jimmy Smith said.

"A couple of times he wanted to come out but he just has heart. With a teammate like that, you've got to be willing to do anything for him," Fred Taylor said.

Leftwich's postgame session with the media was delayed considerably by treatment in the trainer's room. When he finally emerged for reporters in the locker room, he was walking with crutches. Hey, if the Marshall offensive line had been there they might have carried him into the room.

"Pretty sore right now, but I'll be OK by Wednesday," Leftwich said.

On the Jaguars' next-to-last drive, which was not a thing of beauty, a lineman fell on Leftwich's ankle, leaving him with a painful limp. It appeared as though there was no way he could go on.

"I knew I needed about 45 seconds to let my pain tolerance start working. I never thought about coming out," Leftwich said.

He repaired to the sideline and when the Jaguars got the ball back after Kansas City missed a field goal attempt, Leftwich was ready to go. Hey, that's what elite quarterbacks do. They gut it out when the game is on the line.

"To lose that game would've been tough to get over," Leftwich said. "I asked (kicker Josh Scobee) 'What do you need?' and he said the 35 (yard line). The thing I wanted to do was not put it in his hands. I wanted to score a touchdown."

Jack Del Rio marveled at his quarterback's toughness, his proficiency at crunch time. It is now most clear that Leftwich is the franchise's most important person. He was drafted to be that guy and on Sunday he graduated to that distinction.

"That's one of the qualities he showed as a collegiate player," Del Rio said of Leftwich's penchant for playing his best when the stakes are the highest.

"We talked about it," Del Rio said of the possibility Leftwich might have to leave the game, "but he hobbled around well enough to stay in there. He hung in there and toughed it out."

Del Rio's team is alive in the AFC South title chase today because Leftwich toughed it out. The Jaguars are 4-2 and headed to 4-1 Indianapolis for a game that could put them back in first place, and they will go to Indianapolis with a quarterback who hasn't yet graduated to the level of Peyton Manning, but he may be on his way.

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