Garrard steals spotlight in rout of Giants
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- During the week of build-up to the "Monday Night Football" game here, the matchup was billed as a battle between a Jacksonville franchise that Tom Coughlin built from the ground up and the Jaguars' roster that his successor, Jack Del Rio, refurbished since taking over in 2003.
But here's the irony: While it was Del Rio's team that extended the Giants' misery, pounding out a 26-10 victory and dominating in virtually every facet, it was a Tom Coughlin quarterback who led the rout of a crippled New York club that is beginning to grow increasingly threadbare because of injuries.
Funny thing, though, how things sometimes turn out in the NFL. What goes around often comes around in the league, and on Monday night, Garrard came around to defeat the coach who brought him into pro football.
"It felt good to beat [Coughlin]," said Garrard, who completed 19 of 32 passes for 249 yards with no touchdowns, no interceptions and a passer efficiency rating of 84.0. "But it also felt good to know that he was the guy who saw something in me, who believed in me and felt like I could play at this level. That meant something, seeing him over there and knowing that, at one point, he had that kind of faith in me."
A native of East Orange, N.J., Garrard grew up a huge Giants fan and, in besting the team of his youth, he seemingly took another step toward growing into a quarterback capable of taking the talented but often inconsistent Jaguars to a playoff berth. Indeed, with Leftwich scheduled for surgery Tuesday to repair his balky left ankle, Garrard must be The Man if Jacksonville is to qualify for the postseason.
Certainly, his teammates share the confidence in Garrard that Coughlin once discerned when scouting him nearly five years ago. And certainly Coughlin's old quarterback played much better than his new one, as Eli Manning struggled mightily, completing 19 of 41 passes for 230 yards.
"He's got command," Jaguars tailback Fred Taylor said. "All eyes are on [Garrard] in the huddle. He's been here before, won in this league, and we know he can win again."
Garrard, 28, posted a 4-1 record in 2005 while replacing Leftwich, who fractured his left ankle but then returned for the playoffs. He is 3-1 in his four starts this season and 8-4 as a starter for his career. Garrard isn't always aesthetically perfect. He often stares down his primary receiver and sometimes hurries himself a bit too much, particularly in the red zone. But Garrard is the efficient kind of player Coughlin envisioned.
And he was hardly the only Coughlin leftover who helped make life miserable for a coach who led Jacksonville to two AFC Championship Game appearances during his eight-year tenure here. Of the 22 Jacksonville starters, nine were from the Coughlin Era, and many of them played meaningful roles in the Jaguars' victory.
The defensive tackle tandem of John Henderson and Marcus Stroud, the latter back in the starting lineup after missing five games to an ankle injury some feared might sideline him the rest of the season, helped limit the Giants to 25 rushing yards on 14 attempts. The total was the fewest ever allowed by the Jaguars. Tailback Tiki Barber, the centerpiece of New York's offense, had 27 yards on 10 rushes. About halfway through the second quarter, the Giants simply abandoned the run altogether.
How dominant was Jacksonville's defense? The Giants didn't register their initial first down until the final two minutes of the first half. Manning, who has played poorly the past two games, didn't complete a pass to a wide receiver until 3:51 remained in the first half.
"You could sense their frustration," Henderson said. "I mean, running the ball with Tiki, that's a huge part of their game. We came out and took it from them early, you know? After a while, it just seemed like they threw in the towel. We made them one-dimensional and, once we did that, we just got after Manning. And you pretty much know, when he drops back to pass, where he's going to be."
There must be concerns in the Giants' camp about Manning. He seems out of rhythm and his marksmanship is way off, and there were several occasions when his receivers, most notably tight end Jeremy Shockey, were clearly perturbed at being open and not getting the ball. At 6-4 in the NFC East, and with the resurgent Cowboys getting bigger in their rearview mirror, the decimated Giants could be in trouble.
Only two weeks ago, New York was being touted as a Super Bowl contender, no worse than the second-best team in the conference. Losses to Chicago and Jacksonville have altered that view.
"We're not playing good football," Manning said. "It's that simple. We've just got to work a lot harder and dig a lot deeper now."
Garrard knows a little about digging a lot deeper.
On the day of the 2003 draft, he and his wife, Mary, were driving through Raleigh, N.C., when he heard on the radio that the Jaguars had selected Leftwich in the first round. Fearing that the plan that had him succeeding Brunell as starter was over, Garrard pulled over to the side of the road to compose himself.
But then, as Garrard noted, everything happens for a reason. Three years later, Leftwich is on the injured reserve list and Garrard is -- blessedly, he insisted -- on the spot. On Monday night, Garrard looked the part of a starter, on and off the field. He played well and dressed well, with a natty, gray suit, a pink shirt and designer shades.
Asked how he might have reacted if someone had told him two months ago that, in Week 11 of the season, Tony Romo would lead Dallas over Peyton Manning and Garrard would engineer a win over Eli Manning, the Jags' new starter laughed.
"I'd probably tell the person who made that prediction that they were crazy," Garrard said. "But then again, you look around the league and a lot of backups are playing right now, aren't they?
"Then again, I guess I'm not a backup any more, huh?"
Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer at ESPN.com.
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