David Garrard liked a lot about what he saw.
First, there was the Jaguars beating the Atlanta Falcons, 15-13, in front of a good crowd at EverBank Field Friday night, thus ensuring a far better overall feeling than the team experienced a week before in the preseason opener.
But Garrard, the Jaguars' veteran quarterback, said there was a bigger reason he felt good after the Jaguars rallied from a 10-point third-quarter deficit with an energized, improved fourth quarter.
The preseason is half over, and two weeks remain.
And already, Garrard said the Jaguars are pretty well on the way to being ready for the regular season.
"I felt like I was ready to roll," Garrard said following his first action of the 2011 preseason, action that came a week after the Jaguars' starting quarterback missed a 47-12 preseason-opening loss at New England with a back injury.
"I felt great out there. It could've been a regular season game and I was ready. I don't feel like we need to grind on a bunch of things, I just think using these next few preseason games to fine-tune and we should be ready to roll into the season nicely."
The Jaguars, after trailing 13-3 early in the third quarter, pulled to within 13-9 entering the fourth quarter with field goals of 54 and 24 yards by veteran kicker Josh Scobee. Third-team quarterback Luke McCown then gave the Jaguars the lead with a 12-yard touchdown pass to rookie free-agent wide receiver Armon Binns with 6:19 remaining in the fourth quarter.
Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio called it a "good, solid night's work."
"I thought there were some encouraging things in terms of physically," Del Rio said, adding, "It's always nice to win if you're keeping score. I saw some things coming together for the football team."
The Jaguars out-gained Atlanta 316-264 for the game and produced 20 first downs to 11 for the Falcons.
"Every level complemented the other level," Jaguars cornerback Rashean Mathis said. "That's how we wanted to start. I'm sure we'll be proud of what we look at come Sunday when we watch film. There are still some areas we need to clean up, but that's what a defense does – it gets better as it goes on."
A primary storyline entering the game focused on Garrard and rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert, the latter of whom took reps with the first team in practice this week.
Garrard started Friday and played the first quarter, completing 7 of 12 passes for 99 yards with no touchdowns and an interception. He played three series, leading a field-goal drive on his third drive after the first two drives ended with turnovers.
"I was telling the guys earlier that we were moving the ball great, but we just have to put points on the board," Garrard said. "We have to convert when we get in the red zone."
Garrard started the game by moving Jacksonville to the Atlanta 46, but his deep pass to wide receiver Mike Thomas was intercepted by Falcons cornerback Brent Grimes. Garrard said the interception came on a "simple take rout."
"We got the right coverage," he said. "The safety came down hard so my job is to throw it three yards inside the hash and trust that my receiver is going to be there. . . . The receiver right there, if he feels like it is maybe another ball that he might not be able to catch, he's just got to go knock it down.
"I can help Mike out by not even throwing the ball up to him."
The Jaguars' defense, which played well throughout, kept the early turnovers from being overly costly.
After Grimes returned the interception 62 yards to the Jaguars 42, Jacksonville's defense held Atlanta to a 21-yard drive that ended with a 40-yard field goal by Matt Bryant. After a fumbled exchange between Garrard and rookie wide receiver Cecil Shorts ended the Jaguars' ensuing drive, Jacksonville's defense again stiffened.
This time, Jaguars defensive end Jeremy Mincey pressured Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan into not only an incomplete pass on third down, but an intentional grounding penalty that pushed the Falcons out of field-goal range.
Garrard's best drive came on his final series. On that drive, he moved the Jaguars from their 20 to the Falcons 8, with Scobee's 26-yard field goal tying it 3-3. He completed four of seven passes for 62 yards on the drive.
"We definitely got better," tight end Marcedes Lewis said. "In the preseason, you want to be better than you were the day before, and when you play games, you want to be better than you were the previous game. I felt like we got better."
Gabbert replaced Garrard on the ensuing series, playing through the first series of the fourth quarter. He completed 11 of 23 passes for 96 yards and no touchdowns with no interceptions and was sacked twice for 19 yards. Garrard was sacked once for a yard.
"It was fun," said Gabbert, the No. 10 overall selection in the 2011 NFL Draft. "The biggest thing was we got the win. That's what we wanted to come out and do, prove a point, get a 'W' no matter what. If it's preseason, regular season, whatever, we've got to get the 'W.'''
The Jaguars a week earlier had been outscored 28-3 in the second half by New England. Against the Falcons, the reserve units not only stayed competitive, they played well enough to allow the Jaguars to scratch back into the game.
A 28-yard pass from Gabbert to rookie wide receiver Dontrelle Inman set up Scobee's 54-yard field goal, and the Jaguars then got a break in the third quarter when wide receiver Jamar Newsome recovered a muffed punt at the Falcons 12. That led to Scobee's 28-yarder.
Gabbert left the game after the first series of the fourth quarter, and on his first series of the preseason, McCown completed six of seven passes for 69 yards and the touchdown to Binns.
"For us right now, we're working our system and working our players," Del Rio said. "Obviously, there is learning involved. Some of these things are a click off, but when you get it dialed in, then that click can be the difference between a very successful play and a not-so-good play.
"We have to stay the course, continue to teach, continue to learn and grow as a football team."