Jack Del Rio wanted to talk about his team's return to physical football, but first there was the matter of an overtime victory that literally salvaged the Jaguars' season.
Backup quarterback David Garrard, making his first start since the final game of his rookie season in 2002, completed a game-winning, 36-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Jimmy Smith five minutes and 28 seconds into overtime. It lifted the Jaguars to a 23-17 win over the Detroit Lions.
A rousing win? Delirium? No, relief is the more appropriate emotion. The Jaguars' overtime dramatics erased a fourth-quarter collapse that saw Detroit punt-returner Eddie Drummond score on punt returns of 55 and 83 yards.
Drummond's second return begged the question, why did the Jaguars punt the ball down the middle of the field with a minute to play in the game? It was a question Del Rio said he was unable to answer until he spoke to special teams coordinator Pete Rodriguez.
"Highs and lows of the NFL. This football team has experienced a lot of close finishes. It was imperative that we came out of here today with a win," Del Rio said.
You bet it was imperative. Here's what the win over the Lions accomplished:
• At 6-3, the Jaguars remain in a tie with the Colts for the AFC South lead. Just as importantly, the Jaguars' record against non-division opponents common to the Jaguars and the Colts rose to 3-1. The Colts are also 3-1 in non-division common-opponents games.
• Six teams in the AFC – Colts, Jaguars, Jets, Ravens, Broncos and Chargers – currently have 6-3 records. Four of those teams are likely to pursue wild-card playoff berths.
A loss would've dealt the Jaguars a devastating blow. The overtime rally gives this team new life. One game into the second half of its season, it seems to have re-discovered its running game, as Del Rio promised earlier in the week, and the Jaguars would seem to be in capable hands with Garrard at quarterback.
"We talked openly about wanting to run the ball. I felt we showed that today," Del Rio said, referring to the Jaguars' 239 net yards rushing.
The Jaguars clearly dominated the line of scrimmage and Del Rio was deeply satisfied by that accomplishment. Following the Jaguars' loss in Houston two weeks earlier, Del Rio was critical of an imbalance between run and pass and spent the two weeks since challenging his players and coaches to produce a more physical result.
"I don't want to go too far to say that," running back Fred Taylor said when asked if the Jaguars re-established the power running attack that was the staple of its offense in the second half of last season. "Ask me that question at the end of next week," Taylor added.
Taylor gained 144 yards on 23 carries. They were personal highs for the season and marked the second time in 2003 Taylor had reached the 100-yard mark. His 6.3 yards-per-carry average and 42-yard run were also season bests. He was disappointed, however, that he spent much of the second half on the sideline with leg cramps, and he was also miffed by his team's fourth-quarter collapse.
"We let up off them. They shouldn't have gotten that close," Taylor said.
"We're in good position. We control our own destiny. We win-out and (the Colts) win-out and the league will do its little tie-breaker thing," Taylor said.
Yes, it could come to that, but a loss to the Lions would've put the Jaguars in a desperate tie-breaker hole.
The Lions, clearly, were out-classed. Quarterback Joey Harrington turned in one of the worst performances by an opposing quarterback in Jaguars history. Harrington completed a mere 11 of 33 passes for just 121 yards, no touchdowns, one interception and a 32.5 passer rating.
Garrard's numbers, by comparison, were stunning: 19 of 36, 198, two touchdowns, no interceptions and an 87.5 passer rating. The first of his two touchdown passes was a 12-yarder to running back LaBrandon Toefield on the first possession of the game. Garrard also drove the Jaguars 80 yards in 15 plays at the start of the third quarter, with rookie running back Greg Jones powering into the end zone from the one-yard line.
Statistically, the game was a blow-out. The Jaguars out-gained the Lions, 415 yards to 190. The Jaguars out-rushed the Lions 239-81 and held the ball for 18 minutes longer. But the Lions had Drummond.
"I brought the team together to talk about let's not worry about what would've been, but let's pull this out. It wasn't time to feel sorry for ourselves," Del Rio said of his pre-overtime talk to his team.
The Jaguars won the overtime coin toss and the Lions never got the ball, again.
"You're talking about a guy who is playing unbelievable football; playing like a young man and playing like a Pro-Bowler," Del Rio said of Smith.
"The league is so close. Games come down to the wire. Good teams find a way to win. There's a collection of men in that locker room who are doing the things needed to win," Del Rio added of his team.