The odds seem to be decreasing that the Jacksonville Jaguars will have starting quarterback Byron Leftwich back in the lineup for the end of the regular season or even for the beginning of the playoffs.
Leftwich underwent follow-up X-rays on Wednesday of his broken right ankle, sustained in a victory over the Arizona Cardinals on Nov. 27. The three-year veteran was still on crutches afterward and likely to still be on the sideline for several more weeks. The latest examination revealed no setbacks, but Leftwich continues to experience swelling, and there is no timetable for his return.
There is doubt as to whether Leftwich will return this season, unless the Jaguars advance deep into the playoffs. When the injury occurred, Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio acknowledged that getting Leftwich back in four weeks would probably be the best-case scenario. There is, though, no real timetable for his return.
For the foreseeable future, four-year veteran David Garrard, who is 1-1 since tacking over for Leftwich, remains the starter.
"A bone doesn't heal in two weeks," Leftwich told local reporters. "It hurts some days more than others. Sometimes it just wants to ache for no reason. Right now, I'm just trying to get over that hump."
Regarded as one of the NFL's top backups, and a quarterback who likely would start for a lot of other franchises, Garrard has played well in his two starts, completing 37 of 55 passes for 366 yards, with three touchdown passes and an interception. He led a late rally against the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday, reducing a 23-point deficit to eight points in the closing minutes, while throwing for 250 yards.
Garrard now has five career starts, is widely respected by teammates and coaches, and would have drawn considerable interest as an unrestricted free agent next spring had he not signed a three-year contract extension earlier this year. It looks increasingly as if he will be the quarterback who leads Jacksonville into the playoffs.
The Jaguars, at 9-4, can earn a wild-card berth on Sunday with a win over San Francisco and a combination of results in other games around the NFL. The consensus projection around the league is that the Jaguars will be the top wild-card team in the AFC and will play at New England in the first round of the postseason, most likely with Garrard as the starting quarterback.
Del Rio said this week he has no answers about when Leftwich might return. Leftwich allowed that the inactivity is difficult for him. He noted that, before kickoff last Sunday, his adrenaline was flowing every bit as much as if he were going to play in the game.
"You hate not to be able to play in a big game like that, with the whole world watching," he said. "At the same time, you have to do what you have to do to get healthy."
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click here.