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Garrard states his case


His stock rose sharply. Want a quarterback? The Jaguars have one for you, but it's going to cost you a high draft pick and a pricey contract. That's what David Garrard's performance in overtime is likely to have produced.

Through three quarters, Garrard was OK. He didn't do anything spectacular, but he committed no glaring mistakes and he was efficient in managing the game and making plays at important times. It was a performance good enough to have earned the Jaguars a comfortable 17-0 lead heading into the final quarter. Then, the bottom fell out.

The woeful Lions tied the game on a second punt return for a touchdown by Eddie Drummond, and the Jaguars' prospects had suddenly turned as gloomy as the early-November Jacksonville weather. Drummond twice blew through the Jaguars' punt-coverage teams like the nor'easter that was whipping through Jacksonville.

Now, Garrard was faced with a new challenge. No longer was he a mere caretaker quarterback. Now, with the Jaguars' season on the line, Garrard had to be a star.

In an 11-play drive, Garrard proved to his coach, his teammates, Jaguars fans and anybody else in the league who will be looking for a starting quarterback in the offseason that Jacksonville has a backup who possesses star potential. On the 11th play of the overtime drive, Garrard hit wide receiver Jimmy Smith with a game-winning 36-yard touchdown pass, rescuing the Jaguars' season from the ashes of a fourth-quarter collapse and shooting his personal stock through Alltel Stadium's gray skies.

If this team goes on to make the playoffs, they can look back to this day and that overtime period and know that it was their backup quarterback who made it all possible. In his first significant playing time since the first and only starting assignment of his career, in the final game of 2002, Garrard turned in a performance that will make the mouths of personnel men around the league water.

"I'm still living the moment," an excited Garrard told reporters following the win. "I know it feels good. It's one more step for me. It's one more thing in my quarterback resume. Who knows, maybe I can be here. But if that's not the case, whoever else sees the game will see I can control a game."

Yes, they will. They'll see the touchdown pass, but they'll see other things that speak even more impressively of Garrard's control.

He threw no interceptions. He did nothing wild or careless. At all times, he was a pro. He didn't run all over the field as Jaguars fans had anticipated and hoped. The plays he made were made from within the pocket, and that's what speaks best of his performance against the Lions: He stayed in the pocket and made plays.

"To have your backup quarterback step up and lead your offense like he did; he did a terrific job managing the offense and in the end making a big throw to win the game," head coach Jack Del Rio said.

You know what else he did? He converted first downs on three third-down passes in that overtime drive; the touchdown pass was a third-and-eight play. He converted a second-and-15 play with a 17-yard pass to Smith. Garrard moved his team 76 yards for a touchdown at a time when the Jaguars were facing their greatest adversity of the season. They had just blown a 17-0 lead and now they were driving into a stiff wind with their season on the line and their starting quarterback in street clothes on the sideline.

"He was one of my biggest fans today," Garrard said of Byron Leftwich. "He was with me the whole game because if we won it would only help our chances when he comes back."

It was crunch time, literally and figuratively, and Garrard knew where to go with the ball. It was Jimmy time.

"I knew if I could get the ball to Jimmy he would take care of the rest. I wish we had done it earlier. I knew we needed some big plays and he was the man to get it to. I knew the ball was going to be in my hands and I had to make plays, and I was ready for it," Garrard said.

His personal statistics are impressive: 19 of 36 for 198 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions and an 87.5 passer rating. Oh, yeah, he also ran seven times for 42 yards.

They don't, however, tell the story. What Garrard did in overtime is at the heart of what will interest teams in his talents during the upcoming offseason. He'll have a year remaining on his contract when this season ends. He's almost certain to be traded. Del Rio said as much earlier in the week and Garrard knows what he did against the Lions will have its greatest impact during the offseason.

Sunday's game was a showcase, and Garrard used it to save the Jaguars' season and lay the foundation of his own future. This week, Garrard is a very valuable backup quarterback.

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