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Historically speaking: Jaguars-Chargers, 2003


JACKSONVILLE – The Chargers, then in San Diego, were the last team to play the Jaguars for the first time. In a scheduling twist made possible by the NFL adding the Cleveland Browns and Houston Texans – and requiring league realignment – the teams didn't meet until the Jaguars' ninth season.

This was October 2003.

The Jaguars by then had been to the playoffs four times, and to the AFC Championship Game twice. They had changed head coaches for the first time the previous offseason, with Jack Del Rio now roaming the sidelines in Jacksonville looking for his first victory an NFL head coach.

Rookie quarterback Byron Leftwich was making his first start in Jacksonville, and he got off to a good one. Riding the legs of Fred Taylor and Chris Fuamatu Ma'afala, while searching down the field for wide receiver Jimmy Smith, the rookie navigated 62 yards in 14 plays to give Taylor an easy one-yard touchdown plunge and an early lead.

Drew Brees, who would become one of the game's best quarterbacks in New Orleans but who was then with the Chargers, couldn't get his offense going early despite the presence of running back LaDanian Tomlinson and wide receiver David Boston. But early in the second quarter, Brees' beautiful 46-yard rainbow touchdown pass to Boston tied the game at seven.

Leftwich responded with a 37-yard strike to Smith followed by a 14-yard floater to Taylor. When Jaguars tight end George Wrighster hauled in his own 37-yarder, it looked like the Jaguars led 14-7, but Wrighster was called for pass interference. Leftwich managed to lead the Jaguars to a field goal and a 10-7 halftime lead, but Del Rio's first team looked like it might cost itself its first win of the season.

Brees took advantage of a penalty on the opening drive of the third quarter and moved the Chargers deep into Jaguars territory. But Jaguars defensive end Tony Brackens stripped tight end Chargers Antonio Gates at the Jaguars 10 and the Jaguars recovered.

Leftwich again utilized Taylor and Fu, then found Smith and Wrighster down the seams before finally finding wide receiver Troy Edwards for an 18-yard touchdown and a 17-10 lead. But it didn't feel good, not with Brees and Boston warming up on the visitors sidelines.

The game was still close in the fourth quarter when Brees went to Boston over and over. The Jaguars seemed powerless to stop it, with Brees finally finding Eugene Parker for a quick touchdown strike to make it a six-point game.

The momentum was firmly on the Chargers' sidelines as the sun slid over the western edge of the stadium. Just over four minutes remained when one of the best to ever wear teal came to life. Taylor and Fu went play after play into the heart of the San Diego defense, pushing the Chargers down the field until just two minutes remained.

Del Rio and offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave didn't want to give the ball back to Brees and Boston. But facing third-and-7 at their 40-yard line, they couldn't just pound the ball and take the chance they would end up punting.

Leftwich, known for late-game heroics at Marshall, took the snap and was almost immediately pressured by Joe Smith. Not the most mobile quarterback, Leftwich rolled right. He spied Taylor covered by a linebacker and let fly. Taylor did the rest.

Of the many game-winning plays Taylor made in his career, this 60-yard score is probably the least remembered. But when he crossed the goal line and all but secured the win for Del Rio, the crowd and the sidelines couldn't have told you he had ever had a bigger play.

It was a huge play at a pivotal moment. To underscore the importance, Brees and Boston connected for a touchdown with just seconds to play. That made it 27-21, Jaguars – but if not for Taylor, the outcome might well have been a Chargers win instead of a Jaguars victory.

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