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Leftwich backs coach


So much was riding on his shoulders. This was a lot more than just another game in Byron Leftwich's development as an NFL starting quarterback. This was a game that would either validate his coach's decision to make Leftwich the starter, or invite even more criticism.

The verdict is unanimous. Leftwich validated Jack Del Rio's controversial call by pitching a near-perfect game in leading the Jaguars to their first win of the season today.

"He's so young. It's scary to have all of those tools," Jimmy Smith said of Leftwich, who turned in a second consecutive performance of impressive poise and control.

It's not supposed to be that way for a rookie quarterback. Leftwich should be struggling to do the mental things, like get his team to the line in the right formation, make the sight adjustments and find the open receiver. But he struggles at none of that. The kid has a command of the game at which Del Rio can only marvel.

"He has the ability to see the entire field that is rare," Del Rio said.

It was that confidence in Leftwich's ability that Del Rio tapped last Thursday. In a press conference that bordered on combative, Del Rio announced that Leftwich, not Mark Brunell, would be the Jaguars' starter against San Diego.

A week earlier, that announcement didn't ignite the controversy it would a week later. This time, Brunell said he was fully recovered from the elbow injury that sidelined him for the game in Houston. This time, Del Rio's decision was based on something other than Brunell's injury, and Del Rio boldly announced his belief that Leftwich gave the Jaguars their best chance to win.

Ouch! They were words that stung Brunell fans and, to a degree, had to cut at Brunell. They were words most refused to believe.

So what about now? What are we to believe after Leftwich's performance against the Chargers? What does his 132.4 passer rating tell us?

For starters, it tells us Leftwich has the ability and courage to step forward in a pressure situation and rush to his coach's defense. And that's a fact that will not be lost on Del Rio. He will remember how his young quarterback quieted the critics at a time when the coach was under extraordinary fire. A bond between quarterback and coach was formed today.

"It feels great. This has to be one with meaning. We're not going into this thing to win one game, we're trying to get on a roll here and win five, six or seven games straight. That's how we've got to look at it," Leftwich said.

Yeah, the kid can be cocky; usually is cocky. One of these days he's going to understand the magnitude of what he accomplished today. The downside potential was fantastic, but he never considered it.

"When he steps into the huddle, he takes control. I'm 34 years old and I'm listening to everything he says. He's going to be a good one," Smith said.

Del Rio can't say enough, and that should give you an idea of what Del Rio's decision will be for this Sunday's game against visiting Miami.

"He audibled when we asked him. He continues to impress me with his mind, his ability to understand football. He's a very intelligent young man. He keeps everybody on the field alive in his mind, thinking about every route, not just the one it's designed to go to," Del Rio said.

A reporter asked the inevitable question. He asked if Del Rio was ready to announce who his starting quarterback will be against Miami. Was it really necessary to ask?

"I promise that at some time during the week I will," Del Rio said.

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