LANDOVER, MD—The Jaguars' offense almost saved the day. That surprised everyone, except, of course, Byron Leftwich.
Leftwich was so good in his homecoming game at FedEx Field on Sunday that he almost overcame the worst day of defense in Jack Del Rio's four years as coach. Leftwich rallied the Jaguars from a 10-point, fourth-quarter deficit to take the Jaguars into overtime, but it was Mark Brunell who struck the decisive blow, a 68-yard touchdown pass to Santana Moss on just the fourth play of the overtime period. The Redskins won a shootout, 36-30.
"For those who like offensive showdowns, you saw a good one tonight. Our offense kept us in the game. In the end, (the Redskins) made one play. They threw into double coverage, (Moss) made two people miss and he scored a touchdown," Del Rio said of the game-winning play.
The Redskins' 481 total net yards was the most allowed by the Jaguars since a loss in Indianapolis early in the 2000 season. Brunell began the day by having his first pass intercepted by Rashean Mathis, but Brunell finished with 18 completions in 30 attempts for 329 yards, three touchdowns and a 117.2 passer rating.
It was a game billed as a clash of the past and present. Brunell, of course, was the Jaguars' starting quarterback in the team's first eight seasons. He was replaced by Leftwich in 2003, when Del Rio became the Jaguars' head coach and the team made Leftwich the seventh pick of that year's draft.
Brunell produced only slightly better statistics than Leftwich did on Sunday. Leftwich was 21 of 35 for 289 yards, three touchdowns, one interception and a 103.2 passer rating.
The performance of Leftwich and the offense in the fourth quarter was especially satisfying. After the Redskins took a 27-17 lead early in the fourth quarter, Leftwich responded with a four-play, 82-yard touchdown drive that moved in chunks of 35, 31 and 25 yards. Reggie Williams made his second touchdown catch, holding onto the ball after having his helmet knocked off his head by the force of a vicious blow from safety Sean Taylor.
Josh Scobee tied the game with a 43-yard field goal following a Redskins fumble that was recovered by Deon Grant in Redskins territory.
After the Redskins marched to a field goal that gave them a 30-27 lead with 1:55 to play, Leftwich brought the Jaguars right down the field to a 41-yard, game-tying field goal by Scobee with six seconds to play.
"I thought Byron did a great job bringing us back. Scobee made a couple of close kicks," Del Rio said.
"For some reason, you believe we can't do this," Leftwich said to reporters, referring to the Jaguars offense's ability to strike quickly. "We can do it. Sometimes 30 (points) isn't needed. Sometimes it's nine."
The Jaguars passing game lagged in the previous week's loss in Indianapolis, but it was the star of the show against the Redskins. The Jaguars defense wasn't able to stop the Redskins on the ground or in the air, and the Jaguars running game produced only 33 yards. Leftwich and the passing game provided the only chance of winning.
"They allowed us to attack downfield and make some plays. We started attempting to make big plays. We did a better job of staying aggressive," Leftwich said.
Reggie Williams further established himself as the Jaguars' number one receiver, catching five passes for 93 yards and two touchdowns. George Wrighster grabbed five for 53, rookie running back Maurice Jones-Drew caught a short pass over the middle and turned it into a 51-yard catch-and-run touchdown, and first-round draft choice Marcedes Lewis enjoyed his coming-out party with two catches for 40 yards, one of which went for 31 yards during the Jaguars' rally.
"It's hard for me to find something special in a loss. What could I have done in the second quarter? Hopefully, we will get better from this," Leftwich said.
Del Rio was left to lament the defense's inability to cover Moss.
"It was right in front of me," Del Rio said of Moss' game-winning catch and run. "When they brought in 89 (Moss), we were going to double him. I think the safety thought he could intercept the ball. When the defense didn't do a good job of tackling, the explosive players took off."
Moss caught four passes for 138 yards and three touchdowns. Running back Clinton Portis carried 27 times for 112 yards and a touchdown. It marked only the second time the Jaguars have allowed a running back to rush for 100 yards or more in the last 12 games.
The big problem caused by the loss is that the Jaguars fell two games behind the Colts in the AFC South title race. At 2-2, the Jaguars will host the Jets next Sunday, while the Colts host the 0-4 Titans.
"We'll bounce back. If you're not mad, there's something wrong with you," middle linebacker Mike Peterson said.
"You tell us our offense is going to score 30 points and we'll tell you we'll win every game. There will be days like this," Mathis said.
Few thought the Jaguars had an offense capable of keeping it close on days like this. Leftwich and company proved their critics wrong.