(Nov. 27) TEMPE, AZ—When Jack Del Rio began his news conference with the "good news," it was obvious he also had bad news, and you didn't have to be a mind-reader to know what the bad news was.
"Byron Leftwich has a broken foot; it looks like a crack in the ankle. The best-case scenario is about a month out. That kind of puts a damper on things. As a football team, we have to pick up and move on," Del Rio said following the Jaguars' 24-17 win over the Arizona Cardinals at Sun Devil Stadium on Sunday.
"The good news is we found a way to win," Del Rio said in his best coachspeak.
Frankly, finding a way to beat the 3-8 Cardinals wasn't all that taxing. The game wasn't nearly as close as the final score. The Jaguars dominated the action, leading 10-0 at halftime, 17-3 after three quarters and 24-10 with 4:20 to play. The bulk of the Cardinals' 368 total net yards was the result of fourth-quarter desperation.
It was another gem of a performance by the Jaguars defense, and the Jaguars find themselves needing that kind of performance more than ever now, what with Leftwich out of the lineup for what might remain of the regular season. At 8-3, the Jaguars are the top wild-card contender, but their lead is slim and their leader is gone.
Does this team have the defense to close the deal?
"Our guys are playing with confidence. We show signs of being a great defense. I see guys who run to the football; they swarm to the football. When we talk, we're very much into it; we speak the same language," said Defensive Coordinator Mike Smith, who was an assistant coach in Baltimore when the Ravens defense was the toast of the 2000 season.
"The thing that reminds me of the guys in Baltimore is the cohesiveness and how the guys interact with each other. They like to be around each other and have fun. That's chemistry and when you have good chemistry you have a chance to play at a high level," Smith said.
David Garrard replaced Leftwich at quarterback midway through the first quarter of Sunday's game. Garrard was most effective running with the ball, as he scored on a 16-yard run in his first series at the helm.
"He led us to victory. He protected the football, which is the big thing. He made some good, sound decisions," Del Rio said of Garrard.
Garrard didn't, however, scorch the airways. He completed 12 of 26 passes for 115 yards, no touchdowns, no interceptions and a 59.0 passer rating.
Protective is an apt description of his performance.
Working with a lead throughout the game, Garrard played cautiously. He probably won't be able to take the same approach in Cleveland next Sunday.
"We're glad to have David just for times like this," Del Rio said of the fourth-year quarterback, who the Jaguars signed to a long-term contract last winter.
"Garrard came in and we didn't miss a beat. We have David here for a reason," cornerback Rashean Mathis said.
It may be an exaggeration to say the Jaguars "didn't miss a beat." Leftwich was playing at the highest level of his career when he came up lame following an Adrian Wilson blitz.
"It's a big loss," tight end Kyle Brady said. "He's a leader. At the same time, it's a business in which these things happen. How we respond is going to be critical. (Garrard) responded as though he was prepared for it. He was fired up."
Garrard got great support from his teammates, especially from the defense and special teams. After the Cardinals cut the Jaguars lead to 10-3 with four minutes to play in the third quarter, rookie kick-returner Derrick Wimbush took the ensuing kickoff back 91 yards for a touchdown.
Late in the fourth quarter, with the Jaguars protecting a 17-10 lead, the Cardinals faced a fourth-and-one at their 40-yard line. Kurt Warner's pass for Anquan Boldin was incomplete and, on the next play, Greg Jones burst up the middle 25 yards for a touchdown.
One more time the Jaguars defense would have to hold, which it did when it forced and recovered a Warner fumble with 23 seconds to play.
"There's a lot of pressure to come in and live up to the expectations Leftwich is leaving behind. Everybody is going to raise their level of play to take the pressure off David Garrard," wide receiver Jimmy Smith said.
That would also be good news.