TAMPA—It was a pass David Garrard should've thrown away and the failure to do that nearly cost the Jaguars a third consecutive preseason defeat, but Luke McCown rallied the Jaguars to victory and Garrard pronounced the Jaguars ready to start the regular season.
"This offense is definitely ready to start the season. This team is ready to start the season," Garrard said following the Jaguars' 19-13 win over the Tampa Bay Bucs on Saturday night at Raymond James Stadium.
Garrard was heading toward a statistical masterpiece while on the verge of capping what appeared would be an impressive, ball-control touchdown drive. Then, on third and goal from the one-yard line, Garrard's pass for fullback Greg Jones was intercepted by linebacker Barrett Ruud and returned 80 yards to the Jaguars 19. Four plays later, the Bucs scored on a two-yard touchdown pass and took a 10-3 lead.
"When you get into the red zone you don't want to throw interceptions and I did. You throw it so either Greg Jones gets it or nobody does," Garrard said.
He was looking right at Jones as he threw the pass in the face of pressure up the middle. Ruud read Garrard's eyes and broke on the pass to catch it in stride.
"You'd like to get seven. The positive is we did move it," coach Jack Del Rio said.
What should Garrard have done?
"It's not that one," Del Rio said. "It's anything but that one. The guy in the first row with the beer in his hand? Try to knock the beer out of his hand."
Garrard rallied the Jaguars with a field goal drive in the closing seconds of the first half. He completed 22 of 27 passes for 187 yards and an 80.1 passer rating in the first half. He tacked on a 70-yard field goal drive in the third quarter and finished the game having completed 24 of 31 for 211 yards and an 81.5 passer rating in a little less than three quarters of action.
"David was really sharp early, until that unfortunate play on the goal line. We were moving the ball well, the defense was stingy; our tackling was better," Del Rio said in overall assessment of the game. "At every turn demands have been placed (on the team) and they've responded. I'm proud of the way we're approaching things. I know we're getting better."
McCown and Matthews hooked up on a pretty touchdown play in the preseason opener, and the one on which they combined in Tampa was even prettier. McCown put a 27-yard pass out in front of Matthews and the undrafted rookie wide receiver made a diving catch right at the goal line. It gave the Jaguars a 16-13 lead and turned out to be the game-winning play.
"I think there are two guys that have been terrific: John Matthews and Brock Bolen," Del Rio said. "We have to take a good, hard look at those men. I think they both deserve a good, hard look."
Bolen, a second-year fullback, is in a roster battle. He scored two touchdowns last week against Miami and he led the Jaguars in rushing with 26 yards on seven carries in Tampa. He also caught four passes for 40 yards.
At 1-2, the Jaguars will conclude the preseason at home on Thursday against the Atlanta Falcons. The starters are not expected to play much, if at all, in that game.
"Responding to that negative play (interception) was a positive for our football team. I saw some growth tonight," Del Rio said.