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Jaguars true contender


The red-zone belonged to the Jaguars. As a result, the 8-6 Jaguars find themselves tied with Baltimore, Buffalo and Denver in the race for the final AFC playoff spot.

"We felt it would be imperative to make them turn the ball over," coach Jack Del Rio said of the gameplan against Brett Favre and the Green Bay Packers. It was a gameplan that worked to perfection, as the Jaguars forced three Packers red-zone turnovers en route to a 28-25 win at frigid Lambeau Field on Sunday night.

Favre certainly wasn't himself on this sub-34-degree day. Sub-34? How about 12 degrees with a wind chill of minus-three degrees at kickoff? And it only got colder as day turned to night.

"My toes are still numb. I can't remember anything this cold. It just got colder as the game wore on," Jaguars quarterback Byron Leftwich said.

Leftwich out-dueled Favre by avoiding interceptions. Leftwich threw for only 121 yards, compared to Favre's 367, but Leftwich also threw for two touchdowns while Favre's two touchdowns were canceled by three interceptions.

Favre went into the game with a 38-1 record at Lambeau Field when the temperature was below 34 degrees. Leftwich joins Michael Vick as the only quarterback to beat Favre in sub-34.

"We were able to run the ball. We were able to pass it. We did a good job of mixing it up," Leftwich said, referring to the balanced production he got from running back Fred Taylor and wide receiver Jimmy Smith. Taylor rushed 22 times for 165 yards and one touchdown, and Smith caught four passes for 87 yards and two touchdowns.

"That's the key. Those are our playmakers and they came through for us in our biggest game of the year," Leftwich said.

On defense, cornerback Rashean Mathis came through for the Jaguars with two key second-half interceptions. The first one killed a potential Packers touchdown drive when Mathis intercepted Favre in the end zone on a first-and-goal play from the three-yard line. Favre inexplicably threw the ball directly to Mathis. At the time, the Jaguars were protecting a 21-17 lead in the third quarter.

"He gave me a gift," said Mathis, whose second interception occurred in the fourth quarter.

Between Mathis' two picks, the Jaguars put together a 10-play, 58-yard scoring drive that ate up 5:51 of the clock and culminated in Greg Jones plowing over the goal line from one yard out on fourth-and-goal. It turned out to be the eventual game-winning touchdown.

"It was a time when we felt like we had to get the ball into the end zone," Del Rio said of going for it on fourth down.

The Jaguars were underdogs, not so much because the Packers were considered to be a superior team, as much as because of the frigid conditions. Del Rio said his team had committed itself to being mentally prepared for the cold.

"You can't condition your body to the temperature you're going to feel, but you can condition your mind," Del Rio said.

The Jaguars were certainly ready to go from the opening kickoff. In their first possession of the game, Taylor broke loose on a 46-yard run and on the next play Leftwich hit Smith down the right sideline with a 31-yard touchdown pass.

Green Bay got a friendly ruling that gave the Packers a 10-7 lead in the second quarter. Leftwich had the ball knocked from his grasp by defensive end Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila as Leftwich was attempting to pass. It was thought to be an incomplete pass and guard Vince Manuwai casually picked up the ball with one hand, but the whistle hadn't blown and safety Darren Sharper knocked the ball from Manuwai's grasp, recovered it and returned it 15 yards to the end zone, where touchdown was ruled.

Del Rio "challenged" the play but lost the review process when referee Ed Hochuli ruled the ball had wobbled in Leftwich's right hand before Biamila jarred it loose.

"I don't want to get into the dialogue I had today with the officials. All I could do is get myself into trouble," Del Rio told reporters following the game.

The two teams combined for 19 penalties and 186 yards assessed. On the Jaguars' second touchdown drive, the Packers secondary incurred three costly penalties. Late in the game, safety Donovin Darius was ejected for a blow to wide receiver Robert Ferguson's head, resulting in Ferguson being carted from the field and Darius incurring a personal foul.

Taylor turned the game in the Jaguars' favor for good after the Packers took a 17-14 lead on their first possession of the second half. Four plays after Favre's 32-yard touchdown pass to Donald Driver, Taylor burst up the middle untouched and sprinted 37 yards for a touchdown that put the Jaguars in the lead to stay.

"In my short career, it's one of the most important (wins)," Leftwich said. "We're right in the thick of things. Now it's just up to us."

Immediately ahead for the Jaguars is a game against visiting Houston this Sunday. The Jaguars will finish their regular season on Jan. 2 at Oakland.

Two wins could get them into the playoffs. The race is on and the Jaguars find themselves in playoff contention on Christmas weekend for the first time since 1999. Their win in Green Bay also means the Jaguars will enjoy their first non-losing season in five years.

"We got another week," defensive tackle Marcus Stroud said.

The Jaguars may have gotten a lot more than that.

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