The Jaguars celebrated the 10th anniversary of their birth by killing the Bucs' playoff hopes.
What was the Jaguars' most impressive performance of the season was spent on no less than the team's largest television audience of the season. The Jaguars' 17-10 win over the visiting Tampa Bay Bucs was shown to the nation, and what the nation saw was an aggressive defense that battered and abused the Bucs, and a powerful offense that featured rookie quarterback Byron Leftwich at his best.
By the time ESPN's Joe Theismann and Paul McGuire stopped singing Jack Del Rio's and his team's praises, the Jaguars had scored their third win of the season and earned more respect than is normally given a 3-9 team.
"That's the way you finish a game. To close out the way we did against a very good football team that was desperate … makes it real special," Del Rio said following a final three minutes of tension that made the game a thriller.
The Jaguars were in kill-the-clock mode after they had stopped the Bucs on a fourth-down play at the Jaguars' 49-yard line. On second-and-10, however, the Jaguars attempted a pass cornerback Ronde Barber was ruled to have intercepted.
Fortunately for the rookie coach and Leftwich, replay reversed the call. For only the second time this season, Del Rio won a "coach's challenge."
But on a fourth-and-inches play at the Tampa 42 with 2:55 to play, Del Rio gambled again. Again, it worked, with Fred Taylor gaining three yards and a first down that left the Bucs at the mercy of the clock.
You might say time ran out on the Bucs. The defending Super Bowl champions were buried at Alltel Stadium Sunday night. They almost certainly will not make the playoffs this year. Their reign at the top is over, and it's very likely the Bucs as we've known them for the past several years will be gutted during the offseason.
But if the Bucs is a team of the past, the Jaguars is one of the league's teams of the future. That's the statement the Jaguars and their young coach made in beating the Bucs.
"After the Jets game, the coaches vowed to be more aggressive on both sides of the ball," Taylor said.
To that end, the Jaguars continued to play pressure defense as they protected their seven-point lead, and they stayed on the offensive in their clock-killing drive. The combination produced an impressive late-game performance by a team that has lost three games this season when opponents have scored on their final possession of the game.
"We've been waiting for that opportunity to show how physical we can be up front," Taylor said, referring to the Jaguars offensive line's dominance of Warren Sapp and company. Taylor rushed for 118 yards and climbed over the 1,000-yard mark for the season.
Statistically, the Jaguars dominated the Bucs, gaining 359 yards to the Bucs' 221, and logging three minutes more time of possession. Against a team renown for physical intimidation, the Jaguars were the aggressor. The defensive line batted down four of Brad Johnson's passes, including two straight by defensive tackle John Henderson on Johnson's last two passes of the game.
"It means we showed we can play well under the lights. We'd like to get some more of these prime-time games," Del Rio said.
The Jaguars took a 7-0 lead on Leftwich's 10-yard touchdown pass to tight end Kyle Brady in the second quarter. The Bucs responded with a 56-yard touchdown drive, capped by Thomas Jones' five-yard scoring run. Martin Gramatica and Seth Marler each booted field goals to make it 10-10 at halftime.
Leftwich delivered the game-winner with 10:23 to play in the game, when he found cornerback Tim Wansley in single coverage against Jimmy Smith. Leftwich let it fly 48 yards down the right sideline and Smith ran under the heave, diving and catching the ball as he crossed the goal line.
Bucs coach Jon Gruden was very complimentary of the Jaguars defense. "It's a defense that is very difficult to move the ball 80 yards on," he said. "Jacksonville's front four played a very good game."
The Jaguars will attempt to win consecutive games for the first time this season, when they host the Houston Texans next Sunday.