He will forever remember Houston and Reliant Stadium as the place of his debut. It was week four of the 2003 NFL season and Byron Leftwich, the seventh pick of that year's draft, was making his first start as an NFL quarterback.
The kid was doing pretty well. He rallied the Jaguars from a 14-3 deficit to a 20-17 lead in the third quarter, following an 84-yard touchdown pass to Troy Edwards and a 20-yard field goal by Seth Marler that capped a 58-yard drive.
Leftwich was on his way to beginning his career as a starting quarterback with a win. He was killing the clock at the Jaguars' 28-yard line with under three minutes to play. Then disaster struck. On a second-and-seven run, he fumbled the ball; had the first down, too.
"It was going pretty good up until that fumble," he said with a laugh during an interview session this week.
The Texans needed 10 plays to go 41 yards. The final yard, or maybe it was an inch, was provided by quarterback David Carr when he leaped and stretched the ball over the goal line on the final play of the game. Only two seconds remained on the clock when the ball was snapped.
Ouch! What a way to remember your first-ever start.
Well, he survived it, didn't he? Boy, how he survived it. The kid's going back to Houston this weekend as one of the hottest passers in the league. Leftwich is a 5-2 quarterback with a season of goodies ahead of him.
So, here's the question: Why? What is it about Leftwich that makes him successful? Forget that "it" stuff from last week. "It" sounds good, makes for a nice column and a lot of fluffy radio talk, but it's all a lot of you know what. You don't win in this league because of "it." You win because of something very tangible that you do very well.
In Leftwich's case, "it" is a product of seeing the field. He does what all great quarterbacks have done. He keeps his eyes downfield. He doesn't look for the rush; doesn't fear the rush. The kid is courageous and courage is the virtue on which this game was founded. Football is a sport for big, tough, courageous guys and Leftwich is one of them.
Leftwich has talked in recent postgame interviews about what he saw downfield. After the win in Indianapolis, he talked about seeing Jimmy Smith and Ernest Wilford on the left side of the field, then coming off Wilford and going to Smith for a critical 25-yard touchdown pass. Leftwich spoke about being more able to find the third receiver in his reads this year. He talked about a quarterback who looks for open receivers, as opposed to throwing to a pre-designated receiver.
A lot of quarterbacks do that; their ability to see the field is not as Leftwich's is, so they lock onto a guy until he comes open, but that's not Leftwich's game. His game is total awareness. He sees everything in front of him. Other quarterbacks throw better and most quarterbacks run better, but few have his command of the action.
Now here are 10 things the Jaguars have to do to beat the Texans.
1. Deny the deep ball—David Carr to Andre Johnson has become the Texans' staple and it must be denied.
2. Make them drive the ball—The Texans struggle in the running game (23rd) and in time of possession.
3. Don't get carried away—Yeah, Leftwich and the passing game are on fire, but don't get aggressive to the point of being reckless. Achieve balance between run and pass.
4. Beware of Moses—J.J. Moses is a 5-6, 175-pound kick-returner who has some explosiveness. He's not Dante Hall but Moses is formidable.
5. Convert short-yardage—It's about time this thing gets fixed. Get Fu or Greg Jones in there and pound the ball.
6. Feed Fred—Fred Taylor broke through against the Colts. Keep it going.
7. Stick 'em up—Carr has a low release point and last year the Jaguars batted down several of his passes. One deflection resulted in an interception.
8. Rush the passer—The Texans are struggling to protect their quarterback.
9. Buy into your own hype—The Jaguars say they won't be flat for this one. Make sure you're not.
10. Get perspective—This is a division game. The Texans will go to Denver and to Indianapolis the following two weeks. Indianapolis is in Kansas City and will follow that with a game against Minnesota. This game could represent an opportunity for the Jaguars to put some distance between them and their AFC South counterparts.