It's the season of David Garrard's life. It made him a starting quarterback and it could bring him a long-term contract to match, but it means so much more to a player who, most of all, was looking for acceptance.
Garrard got that acceptance last Saturday night in Pittsburgh, from one of the league's card-carrying members of the quarterback union. As Garrard was doing his postgame, winning-quarterback TV interview, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger stood in the background, waiting to congratulate Garrard on his victory.
"He said, 'You've had a helluva year. Congratulations on the baby.' He said, 'Go out and win it all,'" Garrard said of that memorable moment in his football career. "To have that respect to wait for me afterward, it kind of said I arrived."
Yes, he has. The stats say it and so does the smile on his face.
Garrard's excellent journey moves from Pittsburgh to New England this week, and the quarterback on the other side of the field will be none other than Tom Brady, the premier player in the league. A year ago, Garrard battled Brady in a week-16 loss that ended the Jaguars' playoff hopes. This time, Garrard will be trying to end Brady's pursuit of perfection.
"He said, 'Just keep your head up and keep fighting,'" Garrard remembers of his conversation with Brady following last season's game, which ended in the Pats' favor when Garrard fumbled.
Brady probably didn't know how prophetic his advice would be. Garrard kept his head up and kept fighting all the way to claiming the Jaguars starting quarterback job, leading the team into the playoffs and, now, into Saturday night's match up against the Patriots at Gillette Stadium.
Can Garrard beat Brady? It's the question on everybody's lips and Garrard had an answer prepared.
"I have to do my job. We're trying to score more points, as a team. It's not me against anybody. We have to continue to be effective. Sometimes, it's gonna be ugly. It was ugly in the second half last week; mistakes. There is so much pressure. Any guy can make mistakes. Sometimes they happen," Garrard said.
He made mistakes against the Steelers; two big ones that allowed the Steelers to rally from a 21-7 halftime deficit and a 28-10 deficit to start the fourth quarter. Garrard threw two interceptions, the second of which was a wild overthrow that has happened on only two occasions this season, both times in Pittsburgh.
"You have to get that out of your system. I had never started a postseason game before. To be able to battle back, it meant a lot to our team," Garrard said.
It no doubt means a lot to him because had the Jaguars lost in Pittsburgh, Garrard would've been blamed. He had a bad game; his first bad game of the season. His 32-yard run, which led to Josh Scobee's game-winning, chip-shot field goal, made amends.
"If that wasn't huge, I don't know what is," Garrard said. "Two poor throws; you hate to have them but they happen.
"I've been very, very blessed this year. This team gives me a calmness. This is how I felt in college," Garrard added.
Coach Jack Del Rio's decision nine days before the season began to install Garrard as the team's starting quarterback and cut deposed starting quarterback Byron Leftwich went a long way in creating that calm. Garrard and Leftwich had always been involved in an unsettling competition. They were two players at neighboring lockers, but each man's quest to be the Jaguars' leader made for a tense environment.
"It made it tough. It was just a funny circumstance. If we need you, you'll come in. I never had full confidence I could make mistakes," Garrard said.
The mistakes, however, have to be eliminated this Saturday.