(Sept. 11)—The old man can still play.
Jimmy Smith dropped passes in the preseason, then dropped the hammer on the Seattle Seahawks in Sunday's season-opener at Alltel Stadium. His seven catches for 130 yards and two touchdowns propelled the Jaguars to a 26-14 win heading into next weekend's important AFC South game in Indianapolis.
"We put some points on the board. I feel good about the way we performed. I've done that before and I'm thankful I can continue to do it at 36," Smith said following the win.
It was a game that began a season of high expectations for the Jaguars. It was also a game of critical importance, since the Jaguars will play on the road the next two weeks. The win left everyone relieved and energized. The pursuit of the playoffs is on.
"There were some things that were outstanding. That plus-five turnover ratio will win," head coach Jack Del Rio said.
A lot of things about the Jaguars' performance were worthy of victory. At the top of the list is quarterback Byron Leftwich, who completed 17 of 31 passes for 252 yards, two touchdowns and a 103.2 passer rating.
That'll win, all right.
"The quarterback was good. He was in command of everything that was happening out there. He was aware of the defense," offensive coordinator Carl Smith said of Leftwich.
Jimmy Smith gave his new coordinator credit for calling the play that resulted in an easy 30-yard touchdown pass from Leftwich to Jimmy Smith in the second quarter. The Seattle secondary appeared as though it was glued to the ground as Smith blew by them.
"That was the right play at the right time," Smith said.
The gameplan also got credit for having utilized rookie wide receiver Matt Jones in enough "Slash" roles to have kept the Seahawks off-balance.
Everybody got a pat on the back, including defensive end Reggie Hayward, who was maligned for a lack of production in the preseason and struggled in the first half of Sunday's opener, but exploded with several strong pass-rushes in the second half of today's game. It was no coincidence that the Jaguars held the Seahawks scoreless in the second half, after having allowed the Seahawks to drive 80 yards late in the second quarter and take a 14-13 lead into halftime.
The defense dominated the action in the second half. It held Shaun Alexander to six yards rushing and intercepted Matt Hasselbeck twice. Hasselbeck's passer rating fell from 105.0 at halftime to 61.3 for the game.
"That's what you pay these guys for … to hit the quarterback," Del Rio said of Hayward, the Jaguars' expensive free-agent acquisition.
Fred Taylor was also praised by Del Rio. After a preseason in which Taylor played in only one game and had just four rushing attempts, he carried the ball 20 times against the Seahawks and gained 76 yards. Taylor has obviously had bigger days, but the significance of this performance is that it was Taylor's comeback from knee surgery that even Taylor, in his darker moments, feared might end his career.
"He said he'd be back. That's a tough man," Del Rio said of Taylor.
Leftwich led an offensive attack that threw the ball on its first four plays of the game. It was a statement of aggressiveness.
"That's the key. You have to start fast. So many times last year we started slow," Leftwich said.
Now they're confronted by a game against the defending AFC South champions. It's a showdown in week two. It's a game that will define exactly how fast the Jaguars will start this season.