The scoreboard said it was a loss, but the play of the Jaguars' first-team defense and quarterbacks Byron Leftwich and David Garrard clearly qualified as a victory for coach Jack Del Rio.
Miami rallied to beat the Jaguars, 18-17. The score in this preseason-opener, of course, will largely be ignored.
This is what counts:
• A defense with three players – Marcus Stroud, Reggie Hayward and Mike Peterson – in comeback seasons allowed just 12 yards in six plays, before retiring to the bench for the evening.
• An offense bound and determined to improve its passing game, continued to do just that.
"The beginning was pretty solid early. Both quarterbacks threw the ball well. The (pass) protection was a little leaky," Del Rio said of his offense.
Leftwich continues his climb. A quarterback whose career in Jacksonville was at a crossroads when last season ended is now the team's unquestioned leader and playing with more confidence, energy and enthusiasm than ever before.
"Once you get going like that, you wanna keep going, but you understand the process of the preseason," said Leftwich, who quarterbacked the Jaguars through the first three series of the game. In his final series, Leftwich led the Jaguars on a 75-yard touchdown drive that culminated in a one-yard scoring pass from Leftwich to wide receiver Dennis Northcutt.
"I always like the second and third games better," Leftwich said, referring to those preseason games in which the starting quarterback gets his most playing time. Leftwich will get more playing time next Saturday against visiting Tampa Bay.
Following a strong performance in last week's intrasquad scrimmage, Leftwich completed seven of 10 passes for 78 yards, no interceptions and one touchdown against the Dolphins. One of his incompletions was a drop by Matt Jones; otherwise, tack on another 20-25 yards.
"I have a new appreciation for football. Every day I'm going to work my tail off," Leftwich said.
He nearly got his head knocked off by defensive lineman Vonnie Holliday, when Holliday slammed into Leftwich as he released a pass. Holliday was flagged for helmet-to-helmet contact, which allowed the Jaguars to sustain their first touchdown drive.
"On the play that guy got the penalty, I had Charles (Sharon) wide open. I just see a lot of good things out there," Leftwich said.
"Matt (Jones) made some plays. The young guys (rookies Mike Walker and John Broussard) did well. Ernest had a nice catch early. When the quarterbacks were provided time, they hooked up," Del Rio said.
The only negative to Leftwich's evening were two sacks.
"Byron was sharp," running back Fred Taylor said. "He got it out of there when he could. I think the offensive line will be the first to tell you they have to do better. He got hit too many times for a preseason game."
Garrard finished the first half and started the second. He warmed to the occasion quickly, completing his first seven passes. Garrard played his best football in the Jaguars' opening drive of the second half, completing all five passes in leading the Jaguars on a nine-play, 73-yard touchdown drive. The big play was a 29-yard pass to Reggie Williams.
The Jaguars were solidly in control of the game, 17-3, when Dolphins running back Jesse Chatman tore through the middle of the Jaguars defense, stepped out of the would-be tackle of defensive tackle Derek Landri and then avoided cornerback Dee Webb's attempted tackle. Chatman went 74 yards to cut the Dolphins' deficit to seven points.
Miami rookie quarterback John Beck entered the game in the fourth quarter and led the Dolphins on a 69-yard touchdown drive. On one play, Beck's fumble was picked up by running back Patrick Cobbs and advanced for a first down. A few plays later, Cobbs ran three yards for a touchdown, then up the middle again for the game-winning, two-point conversion.
Defensively, the Jaguars were stellar in the first half, making quarterback Trent Green look old and scared. The Jaguars held the Dolphins to 64 total net yards in the first half.