INDIANAPOLIS—Byron Leftwich dressed like an old man who had fallen down a flight of stairs. He fumbled for the buttons on his shirt. Someone had to help him turn his collar down. Fortunately, he had left his tie knotted.
That's what happens to an NFL quarterback who's been sacked six times and whacked at least another 16 times. Leftwich will have better days but he'll never earn his money more honestly than he did in the RCA Dome on Sunday, when he was made the target of abuse by Dwight Freeney and the Indianapolis Colts.
The abuse even extended to the Colts sideline where, during an emotional moment in the fourth quarter, Colts defensive line coach John Teerlinck taunted Leftwich with a slash-the-throat gesture that caused Leftwich to gesture in his own way. This will, of course, be duly noted and recorded for future reference, since the Jaguars and Colts will play again this season on Dec. 11 in Jacksonville.
"This was a tough one," Leftwich said.
Tough one? Yeah, like a train wreck.
It was so tough that 56,460 Colts fans were moved to boo Peyton Manning following another incomplete pass in the second half. Yeah, you heard right. They booed Manning. Whoa!
The afternoon became especially tough for Leftwich when, after the Colts had taken a 7-3 lead midway through the fourth quarter, Leftwich was blindsided low by Colts defensive lineman Raheem Brock, who buckled Leftwich into a frightening fall.
"Not the knee," Leftwich said when asked if the injury Brock caused was to the same knee the quarterback injured a season ago. Leftwich wouldn't say what his specific injury is, but he was emphatic that it did not involve the knee.
"It all starts with the guys up front. They're good at what they do," Leftwich said.
Actually, it all started with Teerlinck's gameplan, which obviously centered on a fierce pass-rush. Don't all gameplans?
"I'll keep that between us," Leftwich said when asked about the words he and Teerlinck exchanged along the sideline. "He started it though."
The league, of course, will end it. Coach and quarterback are likely to receive a communication from the commissioner.
All of that, of course, is for another day. This day was about a big game; a game the Jaguars controlled into the fourth quarter, until the Colts began a game-winning, 88-yard touchdown drive that pounded out 17 plays and was led by Edgerrin James' 63 yards rushing.
Yeah, this was a tough one; about as tough as the Jaguars quarterback. On a day that left him battered and beaten, the kid never flinched, not even in the face of the most fierce pass-rush he has ever seen; not even in the face of the most feared pass-rusher in the game today.
He completed 16 of 29 passes for 198 yards, no interceptions and a 76.5 passer rating. They are respectable numbers, considering the circumstances, but what he needed most was for one of those passes to have resulted in a touchdown. That's what he didn't do. He didn't throw a touchdown pass. He didn't produce points. That was his guilt, just as it was a year ago.
"What our defense did today, you should win those games. Our defense shut them down," Leftwich said.
The Jaguars defense pitched a 44.0 passer rating at Manning. The Jaguars defense held the Colts quarterback to the fewest yards passing of his career, 122. The Jaguars defense, however, didn't sack Manning. That was the difference between the two quarterbacks. The young one finished the game looking old. The old one was barely touched.
"In the game of football, when you play quarterback you're going to get hit," Leftwich said.
You're not going to win in the game of football, however, when you get hit as many times as Leftwich did against the Colts, and that's not his fault.