Nobody was calling it a must-win game, but the Jaguars knew it was. The Jaguars' season was on the line in only week two of the season, and they responded with a 13-7 win over the visiting Atlanta Falcons that left head coach Jack Del Rio to breathe a major sigh of relief.
"We needed that one big-time," Del Rio said after walking up to the podium in his postgame press conference.
Relief was etched on his face. This is going to be a much better week for Del Rio. Who knows where this win will rank in his career but, for tonight, it's number one.
"We had to have a win. We worked so hard over the offseason. It was a situation that we had to find a way to win. Played hard, played tough, found a way to overcome some penalties," Del Rio said.
They found a quarterback who got it done at crunch time. They found a wide receiver who appeared to be lost; a kicker they didn't have the previous week.
Along the way, Del Rio surfaced as a coach who's prepared to do the bold things it takes to win, as evidenced by the Jaguars' 80-yard, game-winning touchdown drive, and by Del Rio's go-for-it decision on fourth-and-one at midfield in the fourth quarter.
"I felt like we had to make a play to win the game," Del Rio said of his fourth-and-one call, with the Jaguars clinging to a 10-7 lead with 10:17 to play in the game. "Had to go do it right there. You have to be able to make a yard to win the football game. We had to play aggressively."
Maurice Jones-Drew made six yards and a first down and the Jaguars moved down the field for a chip-shot field goal that increased the Jaguars' lead to six points.
Del Rio made the big call, but it was quarterback David Garrard who made the big plays. Garrard completed 17 of 25 passes for 272 yards, one touchdown, no interceptions and a 117.4 passer rating.
The key moments of the game occurred during an 80-yard, game-winning touchdown drive early in the fourth quarter. Trailing 7-3 and with a running game that had bogged down on an excruciatingly hot day, Del Rio turned to Garrard and the passing game.
Garrard was four for four in the drive, completing passes of 33, 10, 12 and, finally, 14 yards for a touchdown. Reggie Williams, who had been deactivated the previous week, caught the game-winner, a bullet that hit Williams in mid-chest in the back of the end zone.
"The key third down in the red zone; a really well-thrown ball by David, a key catch by Reggie and a well-designed play by the offensive staff," Del Rio said of the strike to Williams.
At that point, the game was in the hands of the defense, which had been moved up and down the field by quarterback Joey Harrington through most of the day. The Jaguars allowed 204 yards in the first half and saw the Falcons take a 7-3 lead into halftime. In the second half, the Jaguars allowed just 44 yards.
At crunch time, a beleaguered defense fought through the heat, injuries and disappointment to deny the Falcons a rally. In the fourth quarter, with the game on the line, the Falcons posted minus-five yards in total offense.
"It's a different defense and that's the excuse we could've used last week, but no excuses," middle linebacker Mike Peterson said, referring to a lineup that saw the Jaguars playing without several players from last year's starting defense.
Peterson was coming off the worst game of his football life and he responded with seven tackles, two sacks, two quarterback hurries and a pass-defensed. He owed it all, he said, to criticism of his play in the season-opening loss to Tennessee.
"Tell them thank you," Peterson said of his critics, especially NFL Network. "They had me fired up and they'll probably have me fired up for the rest of the season."
The Jaguars should also thank Falcons kicker Matt Prater, who sailed two short field-goal attempts wide to the right. Newly-acquired Jaguars kicker John Carney made his two tries and also boomed his kickoffs. Carney had two touchbacks.
At 1-1, the Jaguars are tied with Tennessee, each a game behind 2-0 Houston and Indianapolis in the AFC South. Making a victory most important is that the Jaguars' next two games are on the road.