Byron Leftwich was faced with what may have been the most major pre-snap decision-making process of his young career Sunday in Nashville, and he almost passed the test.
Leftwich broke the huddle on fourth-and-goal at the Titans two-yard line with a "quarterback draw" that was sent in from the sideline. With 48 seconds to play, the Jaguars were attempting to score a touchdown that would tie the game and send it into overtime.
But the rookie quarterback quickly saw the Titans were also expecting a "draw," which Leftwich had run for a touchdown against the Colts a week earlier. Leftwich responded as he should; he changed the play.
Tight end Kyle Brady and running back Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala ran routes to the left side of the field, where they stopped after crossing the goal line. Each slipped on the wet turf.
Leftwich got a blitz up the middle from the Titans defenders positioned against the "draw," and he threw the ball quickly. Brady said the ball was by him by the time he regained his footing. Fuamatu-Ma'afala told reporters he thought the pass was intended for him. As it was, it fell harmlessly between the two players.
"It looked like Brady, to me," coach Jack Del Rio told reporters today when he was asked who the intended receiver was. Leftwich was very vague in describing the play in the postgame locker room.
By all appearances, it would seem Leftwich was overwhelmed by the situation. The positive is that he now has that experience under his belt and it will help him succeed in that situation the next time he faces it.
"There were guys open, he was hurried, we didn't complete it," Del Rio said in describing the play at this afternoon's press conference.
That raised the inevitable question following a 10-3 loss in which Leftwich turned in the lowest passer rating (35.8) of his seven starts.
"No, I haven't given any thought to making a switch (at quarterback)," Del Rio said. "He's a rookie, he's continued to make improvement and it's my opinion he can do things well enough right now for us to win."
So begins another week for Del Rio and his young football team. Again, Del Rio finds himself having to defend his rookie passer and re-affirm his commitment to him.
On this day, Del Rio also defended the play-calling for the Jaguars' final four downs, which began at the Tennessee three-yard line. The first two plays were middle runs by Fuamatu-Ma'afala that lost two yards.
The big blow of the drive, however, was the five-yard delay-of-game penalty that followed. From the 10-yard line, Leftwich threw over the middle to rookie wide receiver Cortez Hankton, who was belted down at the two-yard line. Without the penalty, Hankton's grab ties the game.
"We gave ourselves an opportunity to win and came up short," Del Rio said when asked about the play-calling.
Meanwhile, the Jaguars defense turned in one of the most impressive performances in team history. It held the league's top-rated passer to 166 yards passing and a 69.8 passer rating. It intercepted him once and sacked him twice. The Jaguars defense held the Titans scoreless on four possessions that began in Jaguars territory.
"We are beginning to understand what it looks like, what it feels like. You can just feel when it starts to click and guys arrive in waves instead of one or two at a time," Del Rio said of his defense.
"I know we're going to be competitive. I don't feel like we've been overwhelmed in any of the games. When you don't get the win, it's not enough, soon enough," he added.