Garrard was a gunslinger

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They are winners of seven of their last nine games. They are closing on a playoff berth. They are, simply put, playing well enough to cause their fans to begin entertaining wildly optimistic thoughts.

David Garrard returned to action after a month on the sideline and turned in another eye-popping performance that has fans wondering how high Garrard will take his game before this season is over.

Garrard and the Jaguars dismantled the visiting San Diego Chargers on Sunday, 24-17. Garrard threw a couple of touchdowns and several impressive completions and the defense forced Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson to celebrate his 10,000-yard rushing milestone at the expense of another team.

Yeah, we expected a juicy matchup between Tomlinson and the Jaguars defense. What no one expected was for Garrard to challenge the Chargers' vaunted cornerback trio; certainly not in his first game back from the high-ankle sprain he sustained on Oct. 22.

"We felt there would be opportunities if we were able to hold off their rush," Jaguars head coach Jack Del Rio said, referring to the deep passing game. "We thought we had a shot to hit a few of those. David was sharp."

That's not what we expected of Garrard's contribution on Sunday. We expected him to be eased back into action. We expected him to play a secondary role and for the Jaguars to turn hardest to their running game. After all, cornerback Antonio Cromartie has six interceptions and was fresh off a monster performance against Peyton Manning and the Colts.

Apparently, that's how much confidence Del Rio has in Garrard. He returned Garrard to the starting job and then handed him an aggressive game plan that had Garrard wing the ball downfield.

Leading 10-3 in the second quarter, Garrard fired a 36-yard dart to Reggie Williams for a touchdown. The pass split two Chargers defenders; froze them as though they were defenseless against the force of the delivery.

After the Chargers cut the deficit to 17-10 on the opening drive of the second half, Garrard responded with a five-play, 87-yard touchdown drive that featured a 22-yard toss to wide receiver Dennis Northcutt, a 36-yard throw to tight end George Wrighster, a picture-perfect 26-yard strike to Williams and, then, a one-yard lob to a wide open Marcedes Lewis for the touchdown.

Those four plays represent the height of Garrard's career as a starting quarterback, for they were four consecutive plays in which the quarterback attained a gunslinger-like level no one previously thought possible of him.

Garrard, the dink and dunk quarterback? Garrard, the master of the 18-play drive? Not on this day. On this day, he was Garrard the gunslinger, and here's the best part: He still hasn't thrown an interception this season.

How high can this team reach? That's the big question today as Jaguars fans revel in the team's lofty position. A year ago, it was a question we didn't allow ourselves to ask because Garrard was not giving us reason to believe the answer was high. This year, it is.

Garrard is giving us every reason to believe the Jaguars can win with him in the playoffs. He is performing at the highest level and no longer are the Jaguars overmatched at the quarterback position. The guy can play with anybody.

Fifteen of 24 for 189 yards, two touchdowns and a 114.8 passer rating; nothing special about that, right? No, not statistically, but if you watched the game and saw how Garrard cut through the Chargers defense and those vaunted cornerbacks, you know the stats don't tell the tale.

At 7-3, the Jaguars are one of the hottest teams in the league. They are breathing down the necks of the Colts and they have a quarterback who looks like he can close the deal.

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