(Aug. 31) ATLANTA—They say they're ready to begin the regular season. Their fans may have their doubts but, to a man, the Jaguars said they're ready to go, following Thursday night's 20-17 win over the Atlanta Falcons in a preseason finale that resembled a replacement-players game.
Both teams opened the game with starting lineups populated by reserves. Byron Leftwich didn't play, Fred Taylor didn't play and neither did any of the Jaguars' top three wide receivers.
"We borrowed one from the book of Bill Belichick. We don't mind borrowing good ideas," coach Jack Del Rio said following the game, which left the Jaguars at 3-1 for the preseason. Belichick, of course, rested all of his starters against the Jaguars two years ago.
David Garrard was the Jaguars' starting quarterback and threw a touchdown pass near the end of the first half, salvaging what otherwise had been a struggling performance.
"We want to harness that (scrambling ability) so we don't try to turn every play into a special play. I'm satisfied that he's prepared to be our backup quarterback," Del Rio said of Garrard, who completed six of 13 passes for 44 yards, one touchdown, one interception and a 48.2 passer rating.
Garrard may have been guilty of scrambling too much, but that seemed to be a trend for all of the quarterbacks, as they played behind lines that didn't afford much pass-protection.
Quinn Gray replaced Garrard for the start of the second half and played well, completing eight of 12 passes for 129 yards, one touchdown, one interception and a 95.5 passer rating. Gray's only goof was also the result of scrambling out of the pocket. He threw a careless interception while on the run.
Undrafted rookie wide receiver Charles Sharon was one of the surprise stars of the night. Sharon caught two touchdown passes and put himself in good stead heading into Saturday's final cuts. Rosters must be reduced to 53 by six p.m.
"Good, solid, young kid who is developing," Del Rio said of Sharon.
Fifth-round pass-rusher Brent Hawkins and second-round running back Maurice Jones-Drew drew praise from Del Rio. Hawkins notched two sacks, giving him four for the preseason. Jones-Drew led the Jaguars in rushing with 58 yards, including a 39-yard run.
"I feel confident he can be an every-downs player in this league," Del Rio said of Jones-Drew. "When you give him space with the ball under his arm he's explosive."
Another rookie who stood out is undrafted running back Montell Owens, who was spectacular in covering kicks. He will certainly be considered for a final roster spot based on what he can do on special teams.
"I thought it was a very productive offseason and preseason and now we turn our attention to the Cowboys," Del Rio said of the Jaguars' opponent in the season-opener. "I think we're ready to start the regular season. We're ready. We know we have a good, solid football team and we know we can be tough to deal with, and we know we have a heckuva schedule."
The Jaguars open with the Cowboys and Steelers at Alltel Stadium, before traveling to Indianapolis and Washington. That's a demanding first month of the season that demands the Jaguars be ready to go.
"I think we're ready," Leftwich said. "I've seen teams go 0-4 in the preseason and win the Super Bowl and I've seen teams go 4-0 and win four games. It is what it is. It's just the preseason."
Jaguars fans' greatest concern is for the offense, which struggled throughout the preseason. Del Rio chose not to risk injury by his starters. Instead, he used the pregame to get his first team offense's passing game extra practice.
"They got a workout in before the game; Byron and the receivers. They looked great," Offensive Coordinator Carl Smith said. "We're ready to go. We need to get a game plan in."
Leftwich said the focus that goes with regular-season preparation will give the offense the lift it needs.
"Everything is fine. We just have to get to where it matters. There's something about when you know you'll do anything to win this game. Will we be ready on Sept. 10? Everything inside me says yes," Leftwich said.
Now, it matters.