Byron Leftwich will always have a soft spot in his heart for Reliant Stadium. It's where his career as an NFL starting quarterback began.
"I remember it like it was yesterday," Leftwich said on Thursday. "I remember that Jimmy (Smith) wasn't there and we had just signed Troy Edwards. In the pregame warm-ups I was hyperventilating. I wasn't nervous. I was more anxious to see what I could do."
How did he do?
"I didn't do well at all, based on what I think right now. I remember fumbling at the end, which cost us the football game," Leftwich said.
For the record, Leftwich was 17 of 36 for 231 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions in the Jaguars' 24-20 loss to the Texans on that day in week four of the 2003 season. Leftwich was that year's seventh pick of the draft and he was replacing Mark Brunell, who had sustained an elbow injury the previous week.
The big play of the game in Houston occurred with 2:42 to play and the Jaguars holding a 20-17 lead. Leftwich was attempting to kill the clock and needed only one more first down to secure the win. He had run past the sticks on a naked bootleg but fumbled the ball. It was recovered by the Texans, who then drove 41 yards for the game-winner on the final play of the game.
"I can't even watch film of me as a rookie," Leftwich said. "You don't react fast as a rookie. I have a better understanding of the NFL and of the people around me."
Leftwich will take his veteran savvy back to Reliant Stadium this weekend, for a game against the 1-4 Texans the 3-2 Jaguars absolutely must win to have any realistic hope of catching the Colts in the AFC South title race.
How is the Leftwich who will face the Texans this Sunday different from the one who made his first-ever start three years ago?
"I would drop back and only see two, three guys. Now I see all 22. I can see the referees and the people on the sideline. That's the difference. The game slows down. You're capable of doing a whole lot more in those 2.5 seconds you have to throw the ball," Leftwich said.
Leftwich has always been a player of supreme optimism. He's never lacked self-confidence, even as a rookie.
"At first I just wanted to play because I wasn't a believer in sitting on the sideline and learning. Once I got out there I wanted to win every game. I remember we were 0-4 and I was thinking, I wonder if I can turn this thing around and we can make the playoffs," Leftwich said of his rookie season.
The Jaguars kind of turned it around in the second half of '03, rallying late in the season for a 5-11 record. Improvement was steady; 9-7 in '04 and then 12-4 and a playoff berth last season.
"Am I part of the reason we went from 5-11 to 9-7 to 12-4 to whatever we're going to be this year? Yeah, I believe so. I don't think I'm the whole reason but I'm part of the reason," Leftwich said.
He's the quarterback. He's the biggest reason.