He spoke out and, in the process, put the burden of proof on himself. Then Maurice Jones-Drew delivered a 33-carry, 133-yard, three-touchdown performance that led the Jaguars to a rousing 23-20 overtime win over the St. Louis Rams.
"MoJo talked about wanting the ball and we got it to him plenty. I thought he was special today," Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio said following the win.
The downside risk of Jones-Drew's demand that the team commit more firmly to the running game was significant. He could've been a goat. Instead, he made himself one of the many heroes of a drama that was wasted on the smallest crowd in Jaguars history, both in tickets distributed (42,088) and actual attendance (38,425).
"About 500 yards of offense and 33 first downs is pretty solid," Del Rio said in applauding his team, yet, the Jaguars struggled to score and that allowed the Rams to hold the lead for most of the game and then take the lead with about four-and-a-half minutes to play.
The high drama began when Rams defensive end Leonard Little intercepted a David Garrard swing pass and raced 36 yards for a touchdown that staked the Rams to a 17-13 lead. It was a stunning play and it was feared it would take the heart out of the Jags.
It did not.
Garrard redeemed himself by driving his team to a go-ahead touchdown with 1:53 to play, and to a game-winning field goal in overtime after the Rams came within one play of winning in regulation.
Here's how the drama unfolded.
- The Rams faced third and goal from the nine-yard line with seven seconds to play. Rookie head coach Steve Spagnuolo elected to play it safe and kick the tying field goal. Should he have tried to get one more play out of the clock before the kick? Del Rio was asked what he would've done in that situation.
- The recurring drama in the late stages of the game was in the form of drive-sustaining third-down conversions. In the game-winning overtime drive, Jones-Drew ran for four yards on third-and-three and Garrard completed a 17-yard pass to rookie wide receiver Mike Thomas on third-and-six. On fourth-and-two, Josh Scobee kicked the game-winner from 36 yards.
The Jaguars converted 11 of 16 third-down attempts and Garrard was extremely efficient most of the day, except for two costly interceptions that ruined his passer rating. His statistical failing, however, can be forgiven because Garrard was at his best at crunch time.
"I felt fine. I wanted to make sure I exuded confidence to my offense," he said of his demeanor following the Little interception. "I was happy we got that (overtime) coin toss because I knew we were going down the field. I was determined not to let the blitz get to me and get the ball out of my hand," he said.
Garrard was sacked three times but he beat the Rams blitz repeatedly and displayed a command of the technical side of the game his critics claim he doesn't possess.
Offensive Coordinator Dirk Koetter credited the offensive staff for having made halftime adjustments that armed Garrard with "read-run" audibles that allowed Garrard to change to passing plays when the Rams loaded the box against the run. Those adjustments certainly swung the action in the Jaguars' favor and Jones-Drew exploded following a first half in which he gained only 11 yards on eight carries.
It was "Old Man" Torry Holt, however, who wore the biggest smile in the postgame locker room. Against the team for whom he starred for 10 years, Holt ran a little faster, jumped a little higher and enjoyed his first 100-yard receiving day in two years.
"When you get a chance to go against your former team, you'll look faster. I felt good," Holt said. "If there was a game on the calendar I wanted to get, this was it."
It was possibly even more important for Jones-Drew.
"I said something to make people understand how I felt about losing. Guys felt the same way. Everybody was pretty much supportive. I didn't say I wanted the ball. I just said we needed to run the ball," Jones-Drew said.
How did running the ball help the Jaguars against the blitz-happy Rams?
"They had to respect the play-action pass," he said.
"We have to stay hungry. We can't be satisfied with this victory. I think guys understand it's hard to win in this league."