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Jaguars turn to Garrard


The previous two years, he was asked not to screw it up. On Sunday, he was asked to win it, and he did.

If Garrard goes on to establish himself as a premier starting quarterback, Sunday's 13-7 win over the Atlanta Falcons may be remembered as the turning point in Garrard's career. In particular, an 80-yard, game-winning drive in the second half will become the reference point in Garrard's turnaround.

The downside risk was palpable. The Falcons were seizing control of the game. They were dominating the tempo and the action. Trailing 7-3, the Jaguars had to do something dramatic. They needed a big drive.

So, to whom did head coach Jack Del Rio turn? His running game, right? No way. He turned to, believe it or not, Garrard.

The quarterback of whom they asked little and expected even less last season caught fire. The quarterback most thought didn't have the smarts to run a big-league passing game went four for four; moved his offense right down the field.

He threw 33 yards to Ernest Wilford, 10 yards to Maurice Jones-Drew, and then 22 yards to Dennis Northcutt to the 10-yard line. Then, even after a delay of game penalty and a sack pushed him back 10 yards, he responded with a 14-yard, game-winning touchdown pass to Reggie Williams.

Garrard has never thrown a tighter spiral. He has never seen an open receiver more clearly. His confidence has never been higher.

"I was very happy to have the ball in my hands. We were doing a pretty good job moving the ball with the run, but it got to the point where we needed to put it in the air," he said. "The coaches felt it, we felt it and we knew we could do it."

At that point in the game, the running game had actually bogged down. It was going nowhere. The game was in Garrard's hands. The only question was: Did his coach have enough confidence in his quarterback to make him the star? He did.

"We have every confidence David can play quarterback for us. We can throw the football and we can be successful doing it," Del Rio said. "He made one big play with his feet on a third-down conversion."

Tackle Khalif Barnes said it was the big play of the game, an 11-yard scramble on third-and-10 in the Jaguars' opening drive of the second half. The drive stalled but Barnes said it sparked the team.

"That play was the momentum changer for the rest of the game. It shows how dangerous he is with his feet. I think that one specific play was unbelievable. It charged me up," Barnes said.

Garrard made that play and all of the others that spelled victory in the face of boos as the team left the field for halftime, trailing 7-3.

"I knew the fans were frustrated. I knew they wanted to see more and the thing was we weren't giving them everything they wanted to see. Right there toward the end of the half, we went three and out and were kind of backing up. Who wouldn't be upset? So I understand it, but we can't worry about boos. You just hate to have them at home," Garrard said.

Somewhere in that diplomatic garble lies his true feelings, but graciousness reigned supreme following Sunday's win. Graciousness comes easily when you play as well as Garrard did.

"David was real poised. He was a leader out there. You never saw on his face any panic," Barnes said.

So where does Garrard stand in his quest to become a big-time NFL quarterback?

"That's kind of the result. I'm more concerned with the process; knowing where the hot is, going through your progressions, fixing your protection," Del Rio said. "If we do that, the end result will be that David will have established himself and we will have established ourselves."

This will have been the day it started.

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