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Garrard on top of his game


The fire Jack Del Rio attempted to douse on Friday is going to burn even hotter this week. That's just the nature of these blazes. Once they begin to burn, they're very difficult to put out.

Jacksonville, are you ready for another week of "who's the starting quarterback?"

Del Rio confirmed on Friday that Byron Leftwich remains the team's official "starting quarterback," and that Leftwich will return to the starting job as soon as he is recovered from his sprained left ankle.

All right, that's simple enough to understand and it's a strategy that would've been easily executed had David Garrard struggled in Sunday's win over the Tennessee Titans as, say, Garrard struggled against the Titans two years ago or as he did against the 49ers late last season. Garrard, however, did not struggle at any time in Sunday's 37-7 victory.

Garrard, in fact, appeared to be more poised, more relaxed and more confident than we had ever seen previously. He threw three touchdown passes. He scrambled for a key first down early in the game. He was rock-solid in the pocket and controlled the tempo of the game as a maestro would direct an orchestra.

As a result of Garrard's performance against the Titans, Del Rio could face the second-most difficult decision of his coaching career this week. We all know what the most difficult is. Need a hint? It was in the playoffs.

Benching Garrard will be very difficult. It was difficult last year, but not as difficult as it would be right now because Garrard was not playing at the level of efficiency that he is currently.

Understood, the defense he dismantled on Sunday belonged to the Titans, the NFL's 32nd-ranked unit heading into the day. With all due respect to Jeff Fisher, the Titans' defense really is as bad as its ranking.

It would've been nice had Garrard thrown for all those touchdowns against a more esteemed unit, but it was more than his stats that were impressive. It was the undeniable feeling that he belonged under center.

Leftwich has created that same feeling on several occasions, and against top competition, too. Now, Garrard has risen to that level, in a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately? league.

Here's what Garrard has done. In two starts he has scored two wins that have put the Jaguars on the straight and narrow toward a playoff berth. In two starts, he has yet to throw an interception, appear confused or indecisive.

"He was very efficient today; protected the football well. He was accurate, sharp directing the football downfield. We saw there was opportunity to attack their corners," Del Rio said in analysis of Garrard's performance.

There was opportunity to attack the Titans' corners two years ago. The defensive strategy Fisher employed for Sunday's game was the same one he used to beat Garrard in 2004. Fisher dared the Jaguars to throw and it worked. This time, Garrard made Fisher pay.

"David moved the ball real well early. They were loading the box and daring us to throw," Del Rio said.

Del Rio was confident enough in his "backup" quarterback to order 10 passes in his team's first 13 plays. Two years ago, that wasn't the case. The Jaguars took a more conservative approach and lost. Back then, Garrard was a different quarterback than the one that shredded the Titans on Sunday.

There's no denying that Garrard is playing at the highest level of his career. He's everything any coach could possibly want in a backup quarterback. The question Jaguars fans have is: Might Garrard be ready to become the starter?

"I'm not here to make any proclamations or statements," Del Rio told reporters. "Like I said, David was very efficient; good, solid day today."

Wednesday will be the next key day in the quarterback soap opera. Wednesday is the day Del Rio will present his injury report, which will determine the degree to which Leftwich remains injured or is pronounced healed.

"I felt like that's normal," Garrard said of Del Rio's comments that Leftwich remains number one. "No one's handed me the reins and told me go as long as you can. Byron is the starting quarterback of this team until somebody tells me otherwise. I don't have to read anything into it. It's there in black and white."

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