Jaguars' Garrard looks sharp in return
From his sartorial selection to his precision passing, Jaguars QB David Garrard looked sharp in his first game back from injury, writes Len Pasquarelli.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Sometime during the week of preparation for Sunday's game, David Garrard perused his considerable wardrobe. He considered the options for what he would wear to his first contest back after missing three games because of an ankle injury, and eventually settled on the velvet blazer he had custom-made for him by a Tampa tailor this summer.
"I wanted," the Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback said, "to come back in style."
And in leading his team to a 24-17 victory over the disappointing San Diego Chargers on Sunday afternoon -- Jacksonville's third win in four games -- Garrard did just that.
From his sartorial selection to his solid play calling to the precision Garrard demonstrated on the game's most critical offensive series, there was no denying the six-year veteran was looking good. The color of the blazer -- nattily set off by a black shirt and a matching pocket square -- was termed "Merlot" by Garrard, who suggested that hue sounded better than just calling it "your ordinary burgundy."
Whatever the color, Garrard was fashionable and his performance -- he completed 15 of 24 passes for 189 yards and two touchdowns --was vintage. With resourceful Garrard back and apparently fully recovered from a high ankle sprain, the Jaguars again looked very much like a viable and potentially dangerous playoff contender.
"There's still a lot of season left," said veteran strong safety Sammy Knight, who secured the win with an interception that quelled the Chargers' late rally and moved the Jaguars to 7-3 for the year. "But we feel pretty good about the way we're moving. The arrow is definitely pointed the right way. The key is to carry it forward now."
Still only a game behind the struggling Colts in the AFC South -- and scheduled for a Dec. 2 rematch at Indianapolis, where they rarely are daunted by an atmosphere that often rattles visiting teams -- the Jaguars certainly have generated momentum as they move toward the playoff stretch run. And getting Garrard back in the lineup, and functioning again at a high level, figures to add more dimension to a sometimes predictable offense.
That was certainly the case Sunday on a third-quarter drive that came after the Chargers had cut the lead to 17-10. Backed up to its own 13-yard line, and with the San Diego defense seemingly ready to take control, the Jacksonville offense became uncharacteristically wide-open, and Garrard offered a hint as to what he can be like when the restraints are removed and he can operate at full throttle.
Pushing the ball vertically up the field, Garrard threw for 22 yards to slot receiver Dennis Northcutt, then to tight end George Wrighster for 36 yards and to wide receiver Reggie Williams for 26 yards. He finished the rapid-fire possession with a 1-yard touchdown lob off play-action to tight end Marcedes Lewis, his fourth option on the play, working to the backside of the formation.
"That was a lot of fun," said Garrard, standing in a corridor outside the interview room. "It was nice not to just dink-and-dunk the ball down the field. I think that drive really showed the diversity and the explosiveness of what this offense can be. There's a lot of potential in this offense. And we're going to have to show more of it. There will be times we have to throw the ball, to get defenses from loading up in the box against the run, and that series was a sign that we have the ability to make [opposition defenses] back off."
The sequence might have offered the best insight yet into the offense first-year coordinator Dirk Koetter had in mind when the former Arizona State head coach was hired in the offseason to revamp the Jacksonville passing game. In training camp, Koetter and then-starting quarterback Byron Leftwich spoke openly about the quick-strike, vertical game they hoped to mutually implement.
But then Leftwich departed after being demoted the week before the season began. It seemed as though part of the up-the-field philosophy went with him, with the Jaguars reverting to the more stodgy, power running game coach Jack Del Rio clearly prefers. At times on Sunday, though, it showed flashes of coming back, and there were stretches, even beyond the lightning-quick series in the third quarter, when Garrard and his receivers really were terrifically synchronized.
Said Williams, who also had a 36-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter: "You would have never known, honestly, that [Garrard] had missed three weeks. He came into the huddle, and it was like, 'OK, I'm back, let's go,' like he had never been gone. And he was very sharp. As good as before [the injury], and maybe even better."
The Jacksonville receivers, who don't have many opportunities to run deep, seemed to revel in their newfound freedom Sunday afternoon.
Before the game, Garrard, who has yet to throw an interception this season in 172 attempts and has a 104.5 passer rating, was presented with a good-luck charm of sorts by an Army general from the White Sands (N.M.) Missile Range, who was on the field as a guest. Known in the armed services as a "challenge coin," it bore the inscription "in reward for outstanding service."
Garrard clutched the coin during his postgame interview session and noted that he will carry it with him the rest of the season. Even more than the fancy velvet blazer, the challenge coin seemed an appropriate reminder of the manner in which Garrard had retuned from his injury.
"Oh, yeah," allowed Wrighster, who led the Jaguars with five receptions, "David definitely was outstanding today."
Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
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