Byron Leftwich is "The Man." That fact was made clear in the Jaguars' Tuesday practice and on the team's official injury report, which lists Leftwich as "probable" for this Saturday night's playoff game in New England.
"Byron had a good, solid day of practice," coach Jack Del Rio said of his quarterback, who is expected to return to the starting lineup against the Patriots after missing the final five games of the regular season with a broken left ankle.
Leftwich took nearly all of the snaps in practice on Tuesday and David Garrard spoke candidly to reporters about returning to the bench. Garrard, of course, guided the Jaguars to a 4-1 record in his five starts as Leftwich's replacement.
"After you get in the limelight, it's tough to step back, but being a team player, that's what it takes. It's back to where I was before. I know exactly what that's like. I know what to do," Garrard said following practice. "Byron took 'em all. It's back to his show again."
Leftwich met with reporters in a lengthy post-practice briefing in which the third-year passer was asked about the possibility of being rusty following more than a month of inactivity.
"We're going to find out. I'm not looking that rusty in practice. I'm hitting everything. My goal this week is to make it through without a setback," Leftwich said.
Leftwich is joined on the injury report by Reggie Hayward (hamstring), Mike Peterson (wrist) and Paul Spicer hand, all of whom are "questionable." Rich Alexis (groin), Greg Jones (neck) and Kenny Wright (knee) are "probable."
New England's injury report lists Tedy Bruschi (calf) as "questionable" and Tom Brady (right shoulder), Corey Dillon (calf) and Asante Samuel (head) as "probable."
"We always respond to challenge. We always respond when our backs are to the wall and nobody gives us a chance," Leftwich said.
The Jaguars, of course, are being given little chance of handing the Patriots their first postseason loss in the Brady/Bill Belichick era. The Patriots are 9-0 in the postseason since 2001.
"I'm doing everything I was able to do before I was hurt. I didn't hurt my arm. I still know how to throw the ball. I still know where to go with the ball," Leftwich said.
Only a few weeks ago, however, Leftwich said he gave himself only a "50-50" chance of returning this season. "I was hurting," he said.
He was given medical clearance on Christmas Day to return to practice. "I knew from that day on it was all about dealing with the pain," he said.
Leftwich returned to practice last Wednesday but admitted that he struggled. "I had an awful first day but I've been getting better every day I've been out there," Leftwich said.
Del Rio opened his press conference by praising the Patriots and closed the session by deflecting a question about the lack of respect the Jaguars are being shown.
"We're trying to establish the winning culture they've enjoyed there for quite some time. Everything they've been about is team first and I admire that. They have a healthy respect for each opponent and that's important," Del Rio said of the Patriots.
Del Rio explained the decision to make Leftwich the starting quarterback as "my responsibility. If you make the best decisions you can, in the end the percentages are going to boil down into your favor," he said.