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Jags, fans in love again


"Gambler Jack" is back. He only batted .500 on fourth-down gambles in Sunday's season-opener, but his team responded to its coach's confidence in them by scoring a hard-fought, 24-17 victory over the visiting Denver Broncos that time may remember as one of the most important wins in Jaguars history.

Everything seemed to be on the line: a fast start, the fans' favor, the coach's future, the quarterback's future, maybe even the team's future.

Big? No, huge.

"It was a huge game coming in. I didn't try to downplay it. I didn't try to downplay it with our team. This group is all in, 100 percent bought in and working their tails off," Del Rio told reporters following the victory.

On a day in which 60,000 or so Jacksonville citizens braved record heat, a day that would produce a 33-minute lightning suspension and a storm that doused those fans that refused to leave, the town and the team bonded. They are one, again. Isn't love grand?

Never mind the Tim Tebow hype. It was a nonstory. He entered the game a handful of times and ran two silly quarterback draw plays that gained a total of two yards. They were wasted downs, the second of which may have been costly. On Tebow's first carry, he was met by Jaguars defensive tackle Tyson Alualu, the player General Manager Gene Smith elected to draft in the first round, not Tebow. Alualu also had a sack. He played a lot and he played well. Enough said, OK?

This game wasn't about Tebow. This game was about the Jaguars and Jacksonville. They needed to become friends again. They needed to fall back in love.

Whether they did or not remains to be seen, but if Jacksonville loves a great football game and a gambling coach, then this may just be the beginning of something good. What we know for sure is that it is not the beginning of the end, which it was feared it might become if the Jaguars lost and if Tebow ran wild. Nope, that didn't happen.

Jacksonville's football team is tied with the Titans and the Texans for first place in the AFC South after one week of play. Those three teams hold a one-game lead over the Colts, imagine that, thanks to the Texans. Hey, maybe this year does hold hope, huh?

The Jaguars will go to San Diego next weekend and the team's fans will no doubt count the hours until kickoff. The buzz continues.

Ah, yes, life is good, even in a town of such insufferable heat, humidity and downpours. The temperature reached 93 degrees on Sunday. The heat index topped out at 104. Wadda ya think it was like in one of those plastic seats? Bless you, folks.

Del Rio decided you deserved nothing less than an all-out effort, so on fourth-and-one at the Jags 49 with the game scoreless and two minutes to play in the first half, Del Rio decided to go for it. What? Are you kidding, coach? Do you understand what could've happened if the Broncos had held?

They didn't hold. Maurice Jones-Drew pounded out the first down and two plays later tight end Marcedes Lewis beat sun-bit linebacker Mario Haggan for a 21-yard touchdown reception.

"Gambler Jack," of course, got his name back in 2007, when the Jaguars rode a wave of fourth-down go-for-its to the second round of the AFC playoffs. If Sunday was any indication, "Gambler Jack" is trying to turn the clock back. Jacksonville would like that very much.

He did it again in the third quarter. This time his team was leading 14-7. He obviously wanted to deliver the knockout punch to a Denver defense that was listing badly, but this time the ball was at the Jaguars 39. A little too risky? Not for "Gambler Jack," but this time Jones-Drew was stopped cold, the Broncos took possession and were in the end zone and in a tie four plays later.

The game Del Rio had called huge had just become Titanic-like. The hot seat was on fire. It was Garrard who would turn down the flame.

Garrard converted a critical third-and-11 with a pass to Mike Thomas that led to a Josh Scobee field goal, and then in the fourth quarter, with the score tied again at 17-17, Garrard drove the Jaguars 83 yards in seven plays, pitching a beautiful, 24-yard game-winner to wide receiver Kassim Osgood.

How well did Garrard play? I'll tell you how well he played. He played so well that his arch-critic, "CBS Sportsline" writer Pete Prisco, approached a crusty, old hack in the press box to say, "The quarterback played well today."

Ladies and gentleman, if there was ever an indication that Jacksonville and the Jaguars might actually fall in love again, that has to be it. Indeed, there is hope.

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