Jack Del Rio believes the head injury quarterback Byron Leftwich sustained in the first quarter of Sunday's 21-0 loss to the Houston Texans negatively affected Leftwich's performance in the remainder of the game, but Del Rio said he did not regret his decision to return Leftwich to the game.
"Looking back, it was clear that he was affected. We wanted to give our guy the opportunity to get it done. Byron is our guy. Looking back, I think the blow he took played a big part. Upon evaluating the decision, I think it was clearly the best decision for us. I think it was absolutely the correct thing to do. I had to give him that opportunity," Del Rio said.
Leftwich was injured with 3:47 to play in the first quarter when he sustained a blow to the head from defensive lineman Robaire Smith as Leftwich attempted to recover his own fumble. Leftwich was replaced by David Garrard for one play and was back in the game for the Jaguars' next possession.
After an 0-for-2 start, Leftwich then completed just six of his next 12 passes for 35 yards, no touchdowns and one interception. He finished the day with a 20.5 passer rating, which is his worst performance in his two seasons as the Jaguars' starting quarterback.
At Monday's press conference, Del Rio said Leftwich was diagnosed to have sustained a mild concussion with no loss of consciousness. He was cleared by the Jaguars medical staff to return to the game, then was put through an examination by the offensive coaching staff, which quizzed Leftwich on specifics of the game, such as protections and adjustments. "He cleared those hurdles," Del Rio said.
Del Rio decided to replace Leftwich with Garrard late in the fourth quarter, with the Texans holding a 14-0 lead. Garrard completed four of seven passes for 19 yards. One of his pass completions resulted in a fumble that was returned 66 yards for the Texans' final score.
The Jaguars' six first downs, 126 total net yards, 54 gross yards passing and 31 net yards passing are all franchise lows, making Sunday's loss to Houston the worst offensive performance in Jaguars history. It also marked the first time the Jaguars had been shut out since their inaugural season, 1995.
"That's one nice play," Del Rio said of the 31 net yards passing. "We didn't throw the ball well, and we didn't get enough first downs to give the running game a crack at it. It was a poor showing."
The Jaguars played without star running back Fred Taylor, who was sidelined by a sprained knee. "Fred is one of our stars but I don't believe our ability to run the ball was hampered," Del Rio said.
It was the passing game that clearly abandoned the Jaguars on what was the biggest day of the season. The Jaguars' 1-for-10 in third-down conversions and the Texans' 7-for-15 on third down caused a gross imbalance in time of possession. Third-down conversions on both sides of the ball remain the team's greatest problem.
With one week left in the regular season, the Jaguars are confronted with another problem: How do they make the playoffs?
Had they beaten the visiting Texans on Sunday, the Jaguars would've only needed to win in Oakland this Sunday to claim a wild-card berth. Now, however, they need to beat Oakland and hope Pittsburgh beats Buffalo and Indianapolis beats Denver. Pittsburgh and Indianapolis, however, are locked at the number one and number three playoff positions, and are expected to rest key personnel this week.
"I think it's likely they will," Del Rio said. "Everybody has their own approach. All we control is what we do."
The Steelers are 1-4 in regular-season finales under Bill Cowher when they've been locked in a playoff position. Their only win in such a game was in 2001 against Cleveland, the Steelers' chief rival. Indianapolis has not been in a "locked" situation in Tony Dungy's first two years as coach.
All of this would seem to paint a dismal picture for the Jaguars, but Del Rio would not yield to the gloom and doom at today's press conference.
"Our primary goal is to make the playoffs. We're not going to accept anything short of that. Are there some positive signs? Absolutely. Are there some things being done better than when we got here? Absolutely," Del Rio said.
Questions were many on what could be the next-to-last Monday press conference of the season. How could the Jaguars play so poorly on such an important day? What about all of the no-shows for such an important game?
"There was no question that our guys wanted it. Our team refuses to turn on each other. We're mature enough to understand that doesn't change the outcome. We're all disappointed. We recognize that we did not play well and did not get it done," Del Rio said.
Did the sight of a half-empty stadium demoralize the players?
"That's hard for me to know. I'm really appreciative of the people who are there. I appreciate those who can make it," Del Rio said.
What about the talent level of the team? Do the Jaguars lack the playmakers necessary to be a playoff team?
"You're never going to get me to turn on my guys. These are my guys. We compete with the guys we have. We're not conceding anything," Del Rio said.
It was one of Del Rio's most difficult Mondays of the season.