Jags win brings rewards, but issues still remain
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Jacksonville Jaguars enjoyed the season's first "Victory Monday," as coach Jack Del Rio likes to call it -- a shortened workday as a reward for a month's worth of toil that finally paid off.
Of course, it doesn't mean there won't be a few more Wacky Wednesdays and Surreal Sundays to endure during this long season. The Jaguars (1-4) aren't exactly old pros at this winning thing and, as Del Rio made clear, they still have some serious issues to resolve.
First among them is what to do with Mark Brunell. The quarterback claimed all last week that he was fully recovered from an elbow injury that required stitches two weeks ago. Del Rio made him third string, however, and on Monday, the coach addressed their difference of opinion for the first time.
"That played out a little differently than it could have," Del Rio said. "He proclaimed himself healthy, I didn't see it that way. I still had five stitches in there, he still had swelling and he was not 100 percent."
Del Rio wouldn't discuss Brunell's current health, and the quarterback himself wasn't available because the players were off Monday afternoon. Logic, however, would dictate that rookie Byron Leftwich, who threw for 336 yards and two scores in Sunday's 27-21 victory over the Chargers, would be hard to unseat.
"The bottom line is, I'll continue to play the best 11," Del Rio said. "Realistically, I thought Byron did a nice job."
If Leftwich stays in, Brunell will become a very highly paid backup. He will earn $6.75 million whether or not he stays on the roster. The high cap number makes him almost impossible to trade, and although Del Rio wasn't naming a starter for next week against Miami, he answered questions about how the veteran might feel if he's watching from the bench while healthy.
"I don't think it's easy for anybody," Del Rio said. "How do I think he'll handle it? Everything I've seen about Mark has been classy, competitive, tough. That's what I expect."
Another veteran on the bubble is receiver J.J. Stokes.
Signed to start opposite Jimmy Smith this season, Stokes found himself on the inactive list for Sunday's game. The ninth-year veteran, known for underachieving during his first eight seasons in San Francisco, has 12 catches for 96 yards this year. Because Stokes doesn't play special teams and other receivers do, Del Rio said Stokes won't be active if he doesn't win the starting job in practice each week.
"I'm sensitive to the fact that guys have egos," Del Rio said. "I don't make blanket statements much, but this is one: I expect guys to be professional, come out and earn the spot, earn the right to play and produce when they're in these spots. Our job is to put the best players on the field."
Besides Brunell and Stokes, this had the makings of a team with every reason to be happy -- at least for a few days.
Leftwich's 95.8 passer rating is third-best in the league; his 8.97 yards per pass attempt is the best in the NFL.
Fred Taylor is making big plays again. His 60-yard catch and run gave the Jaguars the touchdown to seal the game.
Coming off a four-game suspension, Smith looked as if he hadn't missed a beat. He caught eight passes for 137 yards and considerably loosened the pressure on the running game and the other receivers.
Del Rio's message to "keep chopping wood" apparently paid off. And although one win can't solve all of Jacksonville's problems, it should make the next week a bit easier.
"At some point, you need some validation that what you're doing is the right thing," Del Rio said. "Getting a win instead of a loss helps get that validation."
This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index