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No one way to do it

Join senior editor Vic Ketchman as he tackles the fans' tough questions.

D.J. from Jacmel, Haiti:
I'm a die-hard Jags fan and season ticket holder. I'm a member of the UN police force and I'm serving in the peace-keeping mission in Haiti, therefore, I have not been able to attend any games or watch any on TV this season. So I look forward to reading "Ask Vic" every day. Your blog was the highlight of my holiday season but I had to break out the calculator. Could you please post the score as it changes?

Vic: Will do. Peace.

Jon from North Adams, MA:
What is your take on who should start in the playoffs at the quarterback position. Leftwich hasn't taken a snap in a game situation in over a month. Garrard has led the team to five wins in their last six games. Who would you start?

Vic: There's no one way to handle this situation, as proved by NFL history. Let's start by examining other late-season quarterback change situations. In 1972, the Dolphins were led to an undefeated season by Earl Morrall, who had replaced an injured Bob Griese at quarterback early in the season. Griese was ready to return to the lineup for the playoffs but Don Shula stayed with Morrall, who eked out a win over Cleveland in the first round. In the AFC title game, however, Shula benched Morrall at halftime and replaced him with Griese, who was made the starter in the Super Bowl. Now let's go forward to 1990, when Phil Simms was injured late in the season and was replaced by Jeff Hostetler. Bill Parcells stayed with Hostetler because Parcells had no other choice; Simms was not able to return. What would Parcells have done had Simms been able to play? Hostetler had the hot hand and led the Giants to the Super Bowl title. A year later, Jimmy Johnson decided to stay with Steve Beuerlein, who had replaced Troy Aikman when Aikman was injured late in the season. Beuerlein led the Cowboys to a win in their first playoff game but was trailing 17-6 in Detroit when Johnson replaced him with Aikman. A rusty Aikman then fumbled twice for Lions touchdowns and threw an interception in the Cowboys' 38-6 loss. In 1999, Buffalo coach Wade Phillips made Rob Johnson the starting quarterback in a meaningless regular-season finale. Johnson played well and Phillips decided to keep Doug Flutie on the bench and start Johnson against the Titans in the playoffs. Johnson would've led the Bills to a win had it not been for the kickoff-lateral play that will be forever known as the "Music City Miracle." In 2002, Donovan McNabb missed the final six games of the regular season with an ankle injury but returned to the starting lineup in the playoffs, won the first game and lost the second. So, as you can see, different coaches have handled the situation differently and the results of late-season changes at quarterback have varied. In my opinion, what a coach does in this situation depends mostly on his comfort level. In my opinion, Del Rio is most comfortable having under center the player he considers to be his best at the position. Byron Leftwich is that player and Del Rio is expressing the courage of his conviction in making Leftwich the starting quarterback. I am not as courageous. I would need to have seen Leftwich play against the Titans to be comfortable in making the switch.

Jordan from Lincoln, NE:
What do the Jags have to do to beat the Patriots?

Vic: Obviously, they'll have to do a lot of things. One thing, however, jumps out at me. The Patriots are 31st against the pass; they are eighth against the run. I will never say don't run the ball but, clearly, the Jaguars will have to throw it to beat the Pats. That's what the numbers tell me.

Bill from Woodbury, MN:
I just read Bill Belichick's press conference transcript and he spoke of advance-scouting teams for the playoffs as soon as they thought they would be in the playoffs. It was a great read and opened my eyes to some behind the scenes work preparing for this week. How much time and effort is put into advance scouting? I would imagine the Patriots were a likely target for Jaguars advance scouting since we have potentially lined up this way for awhile and have not played them in a meaningful game for a couple of years.

Vic: Advance scouting is something every team does. Sportswriters and advance scouts get to know each other very well because they see each other in the press box every week. The Jaguars had to do advance work on two teams last week – New England and Cincinnati – because they didn't know which one they would be facing. Actually, the Jags and Pats had to do advance work on Denver and Indianapolis, too, since they each have byes this week. I'm not suggesting anything here but New England controlled its own destiny, so to speak. In other words, the Patriots pretty much knew who they would be playing, depending on the result of their game against Miami. So, if the decision was to rest starters and use a real vanilla game plan against Miami, so to speak, then the decision may have also been to focus on advancing Jacksonville. You know what I mean?

Tim from Cape Coral, FL:
After Tuesday, there are expected to be eight head coaching vacancies. Do the Jaguars have any serious candidates?

Vic: One of the names you might start seeing pop up is that of Defensive Coordinator Mike Smith, especially if the Jaguars become the first team to beat Tom Brady in the postseason.

Barry from Jacksonville:
What was the Buffalo Bills' record at Rich Stadium when the Jags went in there and beat them in the playoffs?

Vic: It was 9-0. Hey, wait a minute! Isn't that the Patriots' postseason record with Tom Brady at quarterback?

Adam from Jacksonville:
It's playoff time, baby. Don't you love it?

Vic: I love it, baby, love it.

Jason from Jacksonville:
Who do you think the Jaguars MVP is?

Vic: Even though he slumped late in the season, I'm sticking with Rashean Mathis. His two interceptions in the overtime wins over the Jets and Steelers were the big plays in those games and he played very well in the win over Cincinnati. Mathis played his best football when the Jaguars needed him most, early in the season when the schedule was most difficult.

Dino from Jacksonville:
Do you think the Patriots lost on purpose just to play us instead of Pittsburgh?

Vic: They didn't play their best people against Miami and even though they can say they were trying to rest key starters and keep them healthy for the playoffs, I don't think it bothers the Patriots at all that their first-round opponent is Jacksonville. Hey, what does that drop-kick say and how about that conversion pass attempt that sailed five yards out of bounds? Let's be logical about this: Do you think Bill Belichick wanted to go into overtime six days before his team's playoff game? Brian Billick made that mistake.

Bryan from Paterson, NJ:
I'm an English writing major in college and reading your articles really gives me an idea on how to become a better sportswriter. Just out of curiosity, however, how did you go about becoming a sportswriter?

Vic: It's all about free hot dogs, Bryan. When I was a kid, I was a ballpark indigent. I knew the location of every broken seat in Forbes Field. One day, I found out sportswriters got free hot dogs in the press box. That's when I decided I wanted to be a sportswriter. After all, they wanted 25 cents for a hot dog at Forbes Field. So, I committed my parents to spending thousands of dollars to send me to journalism school so I could spend the rest of my life eating free hot dogs. Frankly, I think that's what gave me colon cancer. So, my first advice is: Don't eat the hot dogs.

Rhett from Roosevelt, UT:
What do you think of Georgia tight end Leonard Pope as a draft pick for the Jaguars?

Vic: His size and upside make him an intriguing guy but he doesn't strike me as a deep-seam receiver or a killer in-line blocker, and to be an effective tight end in the NFL you have to be one of the two. He has good hands.

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