The Jaguars offense is peaking at the perfect time of the year.
"We haven't peaked, yet. We're getting close," wide receiver Ernest Wilford said following the Jaguars' 37-6 win over the visiting Carolina Panthers on Sunday. It's a win that leaves the Jaguars at 9-4 and in the lead for one of two wild-card spots.
Quarterback David Garrard had to share the spotlight with running back Fred Taylor, as Taylor made a Pro-Bowl campaign pitch with 132 yards rushing, highlighted by an 80-yard burst. Wide receiver Reggie Williams continued his late-season breakout and coach Jack Del Rio seemed intent on spreading the ball and playing time around to a lot of reserve-type personnel.
"We can play with ANYBODY," Wilford said. "I feel we have a nucleus that can compete with the top of the league."
It seems nearly certain the Jaguars will be competing with the top of the league because they are rapidly nearing a point when they might clinch a playoff berth. Tennessee lost on Sunday and fell two games behind the Jaguars in the wild-card race.
Garrard's play is giving the Jaguars true hope of being a Super Bowl contender. He turned in another no-interception gem against the Panthers, completing 20 of 36 passes for 230 yards, two touchdowns and a 93.5 passer rating.
"I thought David did a great job of flipping it out," coach Jack Del Rio said, referring to Garrard's ability to avoid the Panthers' pass-rush and either throw the ball away or flip it to a check-down receiver.
Garrard threw a 22-yard touchdown pass to Williams in the first quarter. The pass hit Williams in stride over the middle and Williams used his strength to split two defenders and run over former Jaguars safety Deke Cooper.
"Reggie Williams made outstanding runs after the catch," Del Rio said. Williams caught five passes for 90 yards.
Garrard's other touchdown pass was a six-yarder to wide receiver Matt Jones in the back of the end zone.
"I think everybody can see the improvement. We're seeing the fruits of our efforts on the practice field," Del Rio said of his offense.
Defensively, the Jaguars had their way with a team whose hopes were crushed early in the season when Jake Delhomme was lost to a season-ending injury. Forty-four-year-old Vinny Testaverde was overmatched by the Jaguars, who may have sent Testaverde to the bench for good in the fourth quarter. He finished the game – maybe his career – having completed 13 of 28 passes for 84 yards, an interception and a 38.4 passer rating. He was a shadow of the strong-armed guy who was the first pick of the 1987 draft.
"We were able to take them out of the run game and get off the field on third down," Del Rio said.
The bad news for the Jaguars is that defensive tackle Marcus Stroud left the game in the third quarter with what the team announced as a sprained ankle. Stroud put no pressure on the ankle as he was assisted from the field to the locker room. It's the ankle on which he had surgery in the offseason.
Del Rio didn't provide any additional information on Stroud's injury. Stroud was in his first game back from a four-game suspension for violation of the league's steroids policy.
"We have guys with much more confidence than last year," defensive end Paul Spicer said. "Now they understand what we need from them in December."