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Win buys Jags time to grow


They were a play away from the worst bye week of their lives. David Garrard would've been savaged by the court of public opinion. He would've been blamed for everything from the loss to the mass exodus of a significant portion of 38,425 fans who braved 57-degree temperatures to see the Jaguars defeat the St. Louis Rams, 23-20, in overtime.

You think it's bad for the Rams, who suffered their 16th consecutive defeat and haven't won a game since before Halloween last year? It would've been the equivalent of a bad hair day compared to what the Jaguars would've faced this week.

"It happens," Garrard said of the interception he threw to defensive end Leonard Little with four-and-a-half minutes to play and the Jaguars nursing a 13-10 lead. Little caught the swing pass for Greg Jones in stride and raced 36 yards to the end zone. Oh, did it look bad for the Jaguars at that point.

The season was resting on Garrard's shoulders. His future as the team's quarterback may have been on the line. He knew he had to redeem himself.

"I said, 'Let's get back out there and go down and score.' As long as you're able to keep your poise, show them as a leader you're not going to be bothered by that; I was very composed," he said.

So, from his 25-yard line he went to work. He scrambled for a first down, completed a pass for 26 yards to Mike Sims-Walker, who was facing his own form of redemption, and then dumped one to Maurice Jones-Drew for 13 yards and a first down on the Rams six-yard line. From there, Jones-Drew did the rest and, by the way, Jones-Drew was facing a self-imposed challenge.

One more time, Garrard would have to respond, and in overtime he drove his offense calmly, efficiently to the game-winning field goal, a 36-yarder by Josh Scobee on the 13th play of the drive.

You're right, the Rams are not one of the elite teams in the league. They are clearly a bottom-feeder and the Jaguars will gain little in the way of league-wide respect from this victory.

The win, however, kept the Jaguars out of the bottom ranks of the league and bought a young team time to grow. That's what was won on Sunday. A young team is getting better and it fortunately has a schedule that is allowing it to grow as it plays.

In the middle of a comfortable four-game stretch of schedule, the Jaguars' next two opponents have a combined one win and should the Jaguars win both games, they would reach the mid-point in the season 5-3 and, well, you know, in the playoff chase. Hey, it has to be said.

"Bye week coming up. We look to come out two weeks from now ready to roll," coach Jack Del Rio said. "We might not be a great football team right now, but our players are committed to work. We're playing through the growing pains."

Rookie tackles Eugene Monroe and Eben Britton more than held their own against a Rams team that used every blitz in coach Steve Spagnuolo's playbook. Rookie defensive tackle Terrance Knighton dominated the inside and helped hold running back Steven Jackson to 50 yards on 16 rushing attempts. Rookie cornerback Derek Cox, after allowing a touchdown pass in the game's opening drive, was sensational.

The receiving corps may be the fastest-developing unit on the team. Sims-Walker, on the heels of a team violation that caused him to be deactivated last week, caught nine passes for 120 yards. "Old Man" Torry Holt turned back the clock, catching five balls for 101 yards and having his best day in two years. Rookie Mike Thomas had seven catches.

If you like watching a young team grow, ups and downs included, this team is for you. Sunday, it experienced the ultimate growth experience, having to rally for the win, which it did twice.

"I thought we collected ourselves and the offense went out and played ball," Del Rio said of the drive following the Little interception. "There were big plays in that drive. David made some big throws. They blitzed from every direction. The offensive line did a good job knowing who to block."

At 3-3 and with two weeks to consider the answer, the question is: How much growth is in this team this year?

It's an intriguing question.

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