The Jaguars will move into the David Garrard era this Sunday, and though Garrard's stint as the team's starting quarterback is only expected to be two games long, they are two games that could decide the Jaguars' fate this season.
"It's imperative that we rally around David. We're not looking for him to put the team on his shoulders. With his added mobility, we know he has the ability to pull the ball down and keep plays alive. As a team, we must pull together and find a way to get it done," coach Jack Del Rio said of Garrard's role and that of his teammates in this Sunday's game against the visiting Detroit Lions.
The Jaguars will go into the game tied with the Colts for first place in the AFC South at 5-3 each. The Colts will host the 4-4 Texans, which means the Jaguars would gain a game on either the Colts or Texans, provided the Jaguars beat the 4-4 Lions.
A win over the Lions is also important because it would draw the Jaguars even with the Colts at 3-1 each in games against common opponents, the third determinant in the tie-breaking process. Garrard is also expected to be the Jaguars' starting quarterback against the Titans two weeks from now and, of course, that will be a division game and division record is the second tie-breaker.
"Our goal didn't change from day one of training camp, which is to do well enough to make the playoffs," Del Rio said. "In the third quarter (of this season) we have an opportunity to make a push and become a good football team. I spoke on Monday about us focusing on the process itself. Let's not concern ourselves with who might win and who might lose. We have to stay focused on the day-to-day work. What we have control of now is the next eight games," Del Rio said.
Garrard is focused on his first starting assignment since the final game of his rookie season. In his only start as a pro, Garrard completed 13 of 26 passes for 135 yards and a 65.4 passer rating in a 20-13 loss in Indianapolis. Garrard also rushed 11 times for 44 yards in that game.
"I'll tuck it under when I have to," Garrard told reporters.
Amazingly, fans seem to be more excited about Garrard's potential as a runner than as a passer. "If they leave lanes open, I'll take it," he added.
But if conventional logic holds true, Garrard will have his best opportunities to make big plays in the passing game against what is expected to be a Lions game plan loaded with blitzes. That's what quarterbacks in their second-ever start invite, the blitz.
"If they blitz, they're going to leave Jimmy (Smith) out there by himself and I'm going to find him," Garrard said. "I think everybody's going to be sharp. I don't think there's going to be a letdown."
Quarterback Byron Leftwich has been ruled "out" with a knee injury that is likely to cost him two starts. This is the Garrard era of Jaguars football, and though it may be brief, it is no less critical to the Jaguars' quest to return to the playoffs for the first time since 1999.
"He's done well in practice. He's always done well. He's a good young player," Del Rio said of Garrard.
In other news on Thursday, the Jaguars have confirmed that Sunday's game will be blacked out to local television, which means three of the team's first four games will have been blacked out.
"I'm going to continue to focus on putting out a good product. I tend to focus on the positives, on those who are there cheering," Del Rio said.
Tight end George Wrighster and linebacker Daryl Smith have been downgraded on the injury report. Wrighster is now "out" with a back injury and Smith is "doubtful" with a knee sprain.