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His importance grows


EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ—Slowly but surely he is becoming the driving force of this team. In the Jaguars' win over the Jets on Sunday, Byron Leftwich inspired his teammates with his toughness and then delivered the game-winner in overtime.

"His heart, you can't measure how big it is. He just stands in there and gets hit and stands in there and gets hit and stands in there and gets hit," Fred Taylor said of Leftwich, who got hit face-first by John Abraham in the third quarter, fumbled and had the ball returned 33 yards for a touchdown that erased a 10-7 Jaguars lead.

All of a sudden, it was as it was a week earlier, when the Colts battered and abused Leftwich with a pass-rush the Jaguars couldn't block. All of a sudden, it appeared as though the wheels were coming off again for Leftwich and the Jaguars. Then, all of a sudden, Leftwich came back to life, again.

The guy comes back from the "grave" as few quarterbacks in the league do. When you think you have him down and out, he rises to new heights.

He beat the Jets with a combination of skills, none of which involved his legs. Yeah, he's immobile. If that bothers you, then have at it.

Leftwich, however, is not soft or stupid or without the skills of a big-time passer. He showed all of those skills in Sunday's win.

His game-winning touchdown pass to Jimmy Smith was born of a Leftwich-Smith brainstorm, then executed with the touch of a surgeon. The ball fell softly from the leaden New Jersey skies as though it had wings.

"I got the look and me and Jimmy talked about something in the huddle. It was something they were doing all day," Leftwich said of the strategy that went into the 36-yard touchdown pass.

"We knew that every time we got into a certain formation he was looking to drive on a slant," Smith said of cornerback David Barrett, whose return of Reggie Williams' fumble near the end of regulation allowed the Jets to send the game into overtime. "It was the right play at the right time," Smith said of his and Leftwich's strategy.

Smith ran a slant, Barrett bit on it, then Smith broke it back to the outside and up the sideline. As soon as Leftwich launched his perfectly-arched pass, the game was over. At first it was ruled Smith stepped out of bounds at the one-yard line, then replay review said it was a touchdown. Game over, indeed.

"Byron was sharp," coach Jack Del Rio said of Leftwich, who completed 16 of 23 passes for 177 yards, two touchdowns and a 103.0 passer rating.

Those numbers are symbolic of his growing command of the game, but they don't tell the whole story. Leftwich is becoming the identity of the Jaguars. They are drawing their personality from him.

"Tough as nails. You see your quarterback tough like that and, me, I've got to bring my tough game. Guys feed off that," middle linebacker Mike Peterson said.

Now, more than ever, it's imperative the Jaguars offensive line protect its quarterback. They are protecting the leader of this team. They can't win without him.

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