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Leftwich ends old era


(Sept. 26) NASHVILLE—All of a sudden, he's a savior. He did what a lot of Jaguars fans thought couldn't be done. Byron Leftwich led the Jaguars to a win in The Coliseum.

Mark Brunell couldn't do it. Brunell is the greatest quarterback in Jaguars history, a hero of the highest standards, but he couldn't win at The Coliseum. He tried four times and all he had to show for his efforts were a sprained knee and a concussion.

Brunell, of course, never got the kind of defensive support Leftwich did in the Jaguars' 15-12 win over the Titans on Sunday. There was never a chance Brunell could throw for 124 yards and beat the Titans. He never had that luxury, but it wasn't as though Leftwich was handed the win by his defense.

What Leftwich was handed was a five-point deficit with 5:37 left to play. He had to rally his team. Oh, how he rallied his team, 69 yards in 13 plays, eating up all but the final nine seconds of the game clock. There's just something about the kid that gets it done at crunch time.

"I can't say enough about Byron; how clutch he played today. He's incredible. He's so calm. He's just a clutch player," coach Jack Del Rio said of his second-year quarterback.

It is the adjective that describes Leftwich's play through the first three games of the season. He hasn't thrown for much in the way of yards and hasn't produced much in the way of points, but he has twice led his team to game-winning touchdowns on their final drives. He is clutch, and that qualifies Leftwich as one of the new darlings of the NFL.

Hey, it's all about the dramatic, isn't it?

It just so happened, too, that the quarterback he beat was last year's league MVP. Steve McNair is thought by many to be one of the game's top three quarterbacks. Beyond that, McNair has been the great Jaguar killer. He always seemed to have the magic touch against the Jaguars, and it appeared as though he still had it in this most recent meeting.

McNair rallied the Titans to a 74-yard touchdown drive that staked the home team to a 12-7 lead. Was there anyone in Jacksonville who didn't mutter to themselves, "Here we go again?"

In the drive, he was vintage McNair. He completed a big pass on one third down, then ran for first downs on two other third-down plays. It appeared as though everything would stay the same; Brunell or Leftwich, what's the difference?

Leftwich, however, made the difference. He upstaged McNair and, as a result, the Jaguars may have finally, thankfully, put a stake in the heart of a monster that had tortured them since 1998.

In Leftwich's postgame press conference, a Tennessee TV type suggested the Titans had shot themselves in the foot. Yeah, that's it. The Jaguars won because the Titans played poorly, right?

Leftwich gave his inquisitor a cold stare.

"I don't think they shot themselves in the foot. I just think in the second half we did what we had to do to win the football game," Leftwich said.

Ironically, Tennessee never previously seemed to shoot itself in the foot; not until this day. Something big happened on this day, and it had nothing to do with the Titans' feet and everything to do with the dawn of a new age.

The Titans' run is over. It had reached 10 wins in 12 games. It was a great run for the boys from Tennessee, and included in that run was an AFC title game win in 1999, the magnitude of which can not be avenged by a mere regular season victory. Jimmy Smith, one of only four Jaguars players remaining from that game, agreed.

This is a new day. That's what Sunday's win accomplished. It closed the book on the Titans' run; on the pain that lingered from that title game loss. Sunday's win cleared the air. Jaguars fans may breathe deeply, again, thanks to Leftwich.

"I knew the MVP was sitting over there," Leftwich said of McNair. "I know the other one is coming to our house," he added of Indianapolis quarterback Peyton Manning, Leftwich's next foe.

Might the kid actually have what it takes to beat Manning? Manning? The undisputed greatest passer of the football since Dan Marino threw for 300 yards a game and also failed to win a Super Bowl?

Wait a minute. This is a mismatch, right? Manning threw for five touchdown passes in the first half of the Colts' win over the Packers on Sunday. Leftwich threw for a mere 35 yards in the first half of Sunday's win over the Titans.

The kid's got no chance, right?

Let's leave it at that, for now.

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