(Aug. 20) TAMPA—The Jaguars first-team offense failed to score a touchdown for the second consecutive preseason game, but coach Jack Del Rio had reason to believe Byron Leftwich and company are headed in the right direction.
In a little less than a half of action in the Jaguars' 20-17 win over the Tampa Bay Bucs on Saturday night, the first-unit offense gained over 150 yards, converted five of nine third-down attempts, gained eight first downs and didn't allow a sack. Unfortunately, those statistics produced only two field goals.
"I thought the first offense played well against a proud, veteran defense. We were able to move the ball well enough to maintain control of the game," Del Rio said.
The Jaguars will host the Atlanta Falcons in game three of the preseason this Thursday at Alltel Stadium and Leftwich will be coming off a strong statistical performance against the Bucs. Leftwich completed 14 of 21 passes for 125 yards and an 82.4 passer rating. What he needs now is a touchdown pass.
"We want to be playing our best football on Sept. 11 (season opener) and I think we're heading in the right direction," Leftwich said.
Leftwich spread the ball around to seven receivers, one of whom is rookie sensation Chad Owens, who caught three passes for 37 yards. Owens' night started badly, as his muff of a punt allowed the Bucs a field goal and a 3-0 lead.
Owens made a strong recovery, however, making two drive-sustaining receptions and returning a punt 28 yards in the second quarter. He was the Jaguars' third wide receiver against the Bucs and he did nothing to lose the job.
"A guy doesn't catch 106 balls in college for nothing. He just knows how to do it. He does a great job of getting open. He's so quick. He's a football player," Leftwich said of Owens.
David Garrard replaced Leftwich late in the first half and Garrard scored the game's first touchdown on a seven-yard run in the third quarter that gave the Jaguars a 13-6 lead. Garrard completed four of seven passes for 32 yards and rushed three times for 21 yards.
Quinn Gray stepped in at quarterback early in the fourth quarter and he moved the third offense to a seven-play, 75-yard touchdown drive, as undrafted rookie running back Derrick Wimbush scored uncontested on a nine-yard run. First-round pick Matt Jones caught a 34-yard pass in the drive.
The Jaguars found themselves having to hold on for the win, as the Bucs rallied for a touchdown and two-point conversion to cut the deficit to 20-17. Safety Nick Sorensen saved the day with an interception near the goal line with about two minutes to play, but the Bucs got the ball back and attempted a 53-yard field goal with one second remaining on the clock. Matt Bryant's kick was short.
It was the play of the second and third-team offenses that produced the winning points for the Jaguars, but the performance of Leftwich and the first-team offense was most important. Coming off a preseason opener in which the first-team offense allowed four sacks and gained only one first down, another poor outing would've been mild cause for alarm.
"Byron played well," veteran wide receiver Jimmy Smith said. "More than that, our offensive line played well for Byron to get us the ball."
Smith caught two passes for 17 yards. Reggie Williams grabbed three for 32. The running game wasn't as effective, as LaBrandon Toefield gained just 18 yards on seven carries. Star running back Fred Taylor may see his first action against the Falcons.
Leftwich's improved performance may help ease fan criticism.
"It's tough when you have criticism but it makes you stronger. He wants to prove that he's going to take this team far. I like his attitude. I like his attitude in the huddle," Smith added.
The defense was staunch, again. The first-team defense allowed only two first downs and 66 total net yards.