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Garrard rallies Jags to win


Talk-show chatter will be intense. The great debate will rage hotter than ever and Byron Leftwich doesn't dare turn on the radio, read a newspaper or show his face in public for the next week.

So what else is new?

"I have to deal with it like I always have to deal with it. It wouldn't be me if it wasn't like this. It is what it is," Leftwich said following the Jaguars' 21-13 win over the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field on Thursday night.

When Leftwich left the game early in the third quarter, the Jaguars were trailing, 10-0. He retired to the bench having completed six of 16 passes for 67 yards and a 51.8 passer rating. A game that was supposed to be a tune-up for the start of the regular season was a nightmare.

The Jaguars were a time zone away from home, but you could almost hear the rants of fans who wouldn't know what to do with their spare time if they didn't have Leftwich to kick around. Leftwich bashing is a sport unto itself and the Jaguars starting quarterback dressed and headed home knowing exactly what he'd be facing.

"I've dealt with this before and I'm sure I'll have to deal with it the rest of the year," he said. "I know I'm here for a reason. It's been that way from day one. Why expect a change? We understand what we have to do to correct our problems. We'll be OK and then they'll have to find something else to talk about for 2-3 weeks."

Leftwich's greatest advantage would seem to be the commitment his head coach has made in his quarterback. Jack Del Rio knew the questions he'd be facing when he met with reporters following Thursday's game, and Del Rio was armed with all the right answers.

Will Leftwich still be the starting quarterback in the season-opener?

"Yes," Del Rio said.

At what point in the season would you consider taking him out of the lineup?

"That would be getting into hypotheticals," Del Rio said.

They are the kind of questions you expect when the backup quarterback does what David Garrard did against the Packers. Garrard led two scoring drives and completed six of seven passes for 97 yards, one touchdown, no interceptions and a 158.3 passer rating, the highest the rating system allows.

"I understand," Del Rio said of the questioning. "We recognize where we need to get better. I continue to have confidence in what we're doing and who we're doing it with. We're very fortunate to have a quarterback in reserve as talented as David is."

The Jaguars have one preseason game remaining, next Thursday against visiting Washington. It's a game in which the starters usually play no more than a series or two, which is what Leftwich has remaining in this preseason to win fan confidence for the regular-season opener against Tennessee. Sure.

How do you handle it, Del Rio was asked?

"We handle it by going to work. The easy thing to do is to sit back and think you have all the answers. We think we're an improving football team with a lot of work ahead of us," he added.

Leftwich remains the Jaguars' starting quarterback and there wasn't as much as a flinch or a hesitation in Del Rio's delivery to the media in Green Bay. Life goes on in Jacksonville.

"We were aggressive but didn't convert. No third-down conversions in the first half. That's never good for your offense. Clearly, work to do," Del Rio said.

Whatever Garrard brought to the table in the third quarter, it resulted in a massive about-face. Suddenly, the Jaguars were moving the ball in big chunks.

"I thought David did a particularly good job on that throw to (George) Wrighster," Del Rio said of Garrard's 25-yard touchdown pass, which gave the Jaguars a 14-10 lead they never relinquished.

Garrard's best play of the night may have been the previous play, when he was able to track down and recover a bad shotgun snap that sailed over his head. It resulted in a 15-yard loss but Garrard promptly countered with a 25-yard bullet that hit Wrighster in stride as he crossed the goal line.

"I really think it's my maturation at this point," Garrard said when asked why he's played so well in this preseason. He entered Thursday's game with a 105.1 passer rating for the preseason.

Garrard seemed to come to life in the second week of training camp. All of a sudden, he was throwing the ball more accurately and more calmly than ever before. Through three preseason games, he's completed a razor-sharp 78.4 percent of his passes.

"I just felt like it was coming. All training camp I felt comfortable. The game was slowing down. I still feel that way. I know it's the preseason and it's against the (number) two (defense); I can see the difference," Garrard said.

Garrard will likely get some playing time against Washington, then he'll retire to the bench for, ostensibly, the rest of the season.

"We had some problems converting third down; some problems hooking up. Whether it's the pass-protection, the quarterback not getting the ball there in time; we'll take a look at it," Del Rio said of Leftwich and the first-team offense, which produced 123 yards and eight first downs in a little more than a half of football.

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