MIAMI—His career has been an endless pursuit of being recognized as an NFL starting quarterback. With four games left in this season, David Garrard's pursuit has graduated to a higher level. Now he's trying to become a playoff-caliber quarterback.
"He's a football player who's improving. He was pretty solid. He made some big plays," Jaguars head coach Jack Del Rio said of Garrard following the Jaguars' 24-10 win over the Miami Dolphins on Sunday.
Garrard turned in the best performance of his career. His 136.4 passer rating is a personal best and for the second consecutive week he threw two touchdown passes.
"Part of the plan was to open it up and let him make some plays downfield," Del Rio said of his quarterback, who completed 16 of 22 passes for 229 yards.
Miami's defensive strategy dared Garrard to beat them and that's exactly what he did. The Dolphins stacked the line of scrimmage against the Jaguars running game, often leaving the Jaguars wide receivers in single coverage.
It was a defensive strategy that backfired, as wide receiver Matt Jones enjoyed the best game of his career with six catches for 128 yards and a touchdown, a 15-yarder from Garrard that dropped perfectly into Jones' hands in the back-left corner of the end zone.
The Jaguars had expected the Dolphins to be aggressive defensively and Garrard had talked earlier in the week of the opportunity to make plays downfield.
"All week long we knew it. We knew they were going to play press coverage and we were going to have a chance to put the ball up for our big receivers, and they made plays all game long," Garrard said.
Garrard also made plays with his feet, scrambling six times for 24 yards. A 17-yard run by Garrard late in the first half preceded a 16-yard touchdown pass to tight end George Wrighster.
"Any time the quarterback gets out of the pocket and moves around and makes more time, the defense is going to break down. It's not rhythmic. They just don't know what to do," Garrard said.
Clearly, he got the Dolphins defense out of its rhythm.
"We knew they were going to stack the box and we were going to get some chances," Jones said.
The win left the Jaguars at 7-5 and in a tie with the Bengals, Broncos, Chiefs and Jets in the AFC wild-card race.
Rookie running back Maurice Jones-Drew scored the game-clinching touchdown on a 32-yard run with 7:30 to play in the game. Jones-Drew appeared to be stopped by a group of Dolphins, but he burst out of the pack and into the clear and sprinted to the end zone.
"The way the offense took the ball inside our 10-yard line and pounded the ball down the field, I'm really proud of that," Del Rio said, referring to the nine-play, 91-yard drive.
Garrard and the offense were statistically on top of their games. The Jaguars converted seven of 12 third-down attempts and managed to pound out 150 yards rushing, despite the Dolphins' concentration on stopping the run.
Defensively, star cornerback Rashean Mathis made the turning-point play of the game when he intercepted a Joey Harrington pass at the Dolphins 40-yard line and returned it to the 33. Thirty-eight seconds remained to be played in the first half and Garrard's touchdown pass to Wrighster gave the Jaguars a 17-7 cushion at halftime.
The Jaguars now face a four-game remaining schedule that includes games at home against the Colts and Patriots, and at Tennessee and Kansas City. The Jaguars' fondest hope is the regular-season finale in Kansas City will be a win-and-in situation.
"You don't want to finish the year with any regret. Give this football team all you've got. Worrying about (what the other teams do) won't help you play better football. Everybody watches (the scoreboard) but it doesn't help you win the game," Del Rio said.
For those fans who are scoreboard watchers, this is next Sunday's schedule: Broncos at Chargers, Raiders at Bengals, Ravens at Chiefs and Bills at Jets.
"Let's just play it out," running back Fred Taylor said. "We've got a lot of football left."
Sunday's game against the Colts will be somewhat of a grudge match. The Jaguars desperately wanted the AFC South title to be on the line for this game, but the Colts could clinch the division title in Jacksonville for the second consecutive year. The Jaguars would like to delay that celebration until the Colts leave Jacksonville.
"Nobody has said anything about them to this point. A year ago, you would've heard guys saying the Colts are next. We're celebrating this one," Taylor said of the win over the Dolphins, which kept the Jaguars' playoff hopes alive.
"If we win-out, it's looking good for us," Mathis said. "We have a long stretch ahead of us and we know it, and we're geared for it."