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Two wins in one for Jags


Their embattled rookie quarterback scored a win over no less an opponent than Peyton Manning, and for one of the few times in recent history the Jaguars defense didn't collapse with the game on line. This was more than a win; it was two wins.

Is this the turning point in this new era of Jaguars football? Jack Del Rio wouldn't commit to an answer, and logic would suggest the Jaguars probably won't run the table, but today's 28-23 win over Manning and the Indianapolis Colts established a new standard and genuine hope for better days for this team.

"I am very proud of the way our football team responded in the second half. We were determined to make it our day and we found a way," Del Rio told reporters following today's dramatic, come-from-behind win.

Del Rio fought back his satisfaction so that his postgame mood remained dignified. After all, the coach he had measured is one of his mentors, Tony Dungy, who only two weeks previously had sent Del Rio an e-mail of encouragement. Dungy wrote of how his head coaching career began with 1-8. Del Rio's reached 1-7 and was in grave danger of 1-8 and probably worse, when his defense stood firm and forced a punt David Allen returned 27 yards to the Colts' 31-yard line. Two plays later, Fred Taylor scored the game-winning touchdown on a 32-yard run with 52 seconds to play.

Now, the real drama began. The Jaguars defense, which had collapsed in the final seconds of two previous games this season, was faced with the task of turning Manning away. And they did, when safety Deke Cooper intercepted a Manning pass intended for Reggie Wayne.

"That's been the talk all week long. We're not going to let this one slip out of our hands," linebacker Mike Peterson said.

Clairvoyant? No, Peterson is just a student of Jaguars history. Over the last four seasons, the Jaguars had failed to protect leads late in games 14 times. It had become one of the Jaguars' great failings; a contagion, of sorts. But the disease was conquered today; hopefully, the cure will be permanent.

If it is, we will refer to this day in Jaguars history for a long time. In that sense, this could become a turning-point performance. Maybe, just maybe, the evil spell of leads lost has been broken. That would be victory number one on this gray, windy and chilly day; the first hint of winter in northeast Florida.

The Jaguars' second great achievement belonged to their rookie quarterback, Byron Leftwich, who spent the week leading up to the game absorbing harsh criticism for his two lost fumbles in Baltimore the previous week. As expected of a quarterback, Leftwich had become a receptacle for disappointment and a target of senseless commentary.

This should be a more peaceful week for Leftwich, who committed no such turnovers against the Colts. Leftwich's pass-protection was improved and the Jaguars' greatest fear never materialized: Speed-rushing defensive end Dwight Freeney never got close enough to Leftwich to knock the ball from his grasp.

With that, Leftwich was able to concentrate his efforts on completing passes and scoring points. Despite six "drops" by his receivers, he managed to complete 12 of 22 passes for 179 yards, one touchdown and a 96.6 passer rating. Manning had an 82.4.

Leftwich's recovery from a nightmarish performance that might have devastated another rookie quarterback was victory number two for this team. It may move on with Leftwich, who got another game of experience under his belt and increased his games-started total to six.

"He's going to be a real special player in this league," Del Rio said of Leftwich, who was at his best in a seven-play, 93-yard drive midway through the second half, when Leftwich capped the drive with a 43-yard touchdown pass to Jimmy Smith.

Hopefully, we witnessed the new Leftwich today -- a mechanically sound and turnover-free Leftwich -- and if we did we will refer to this day in Jaguars history for a long time. In that sense, this will have also been a turning-point performance for Leftwich.

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