From Knucklehead to Spearhead: Jaguars' David Garrard Needed Comeback
His absent-minded screen pass to fullback Greg Jones hung in the air in front of Rams defensive end Leonard Little, an indictment of the tunnel-vision that critics have cited in deriding Garrard as a subpar signal-caller. As Little raced toward the end zone and a 17-13 lead for St. Louis, Garrard had—for the moment—blown the game.
Having already turned the ball over twice inside the Rams' 20-yard line, the Jaguars' meager advantage had been mostly a product of their suffocating defense.
After allowing a touchdown on St. Louis' first drive, Jacksonville had forced five three-and-outs and limited the Rams to a field goal. Handed the ball and a lead, the offense needed only to kill clock to escape with an ugly win.
Then came the pick that turned the tables.
Chasing futilely after Little, Garrard probably wasn't thinking about his 16th career start , back in 2006, when his four turnovers gave the Tennessee Titans a game in which their offense managed only three points.
Jaguars fans, though, were likely bemoaning a flashback performance from their "game manager" as St. Louis kicked off. Many of the 38,425 present at Jacksonville Municipal Stadium headed for the exits.
Meanwhile, Garrard was readying his teammates for one last effort.
"I said, 'Let's get back out there and go down and score,'" he told reporters after the game.
After a first down incompletion, Garrard took that task into his own hands.
Under pressure on the next play, he escaped through a hole between blockers and turned up field. Rather than sliding down safely, Garrard cut back into the defense and evaded a tackle before stepping out of bounds after 13 yards.
More than a fortuitous gain, the run was a sharp statement against the lazy play that had ended the Jaguars' last drive. Shoulders squared, Garrard's body language showed both his frustration and determination.
Needing nothing less than a touchdown against a defense on its heels, Garrard found receiver Mike Sims-Walker downfield for for a 26-yard completion two plays later to break into the red zone. After a check-down to running back Maurice Jones-Drew for 13 yards and three grinding runs, Jacksonville regained the lead.
"David made some big throws," coach Jack Del Rio said of the drive. "I thought we collected ourselves and the offense went out and played ball."
St. Louis pulled even with a field goal at the end of regulation, but Garrard gave them more of the same in the only drive of overtime. With 39 yards on six passes—including a 17-yarder to rookie receiver Mike Thomas to convert on 3rd-and-6 and cross midfield—he marched the Jaguars downfield to Josh Scobee's game-winning kick.
As Jacksonville moved slowly but surely against the Rams' defense, taking underneath routes and short runs before gashing St. Louis on Thomas' catch, all trace of Garrard's deer-in-headlights interception had vanished.
In its place, his steely, focused performance injected killer instinct into his teammates and an offense that had finished poorly through three quarters against one of the NFL's worst defenses.
"[They needed] to be able to see me keep my head, even after a tough play like that," Garrard said.
Rallying behind Garrard, the Jaguars' rookie starters keyed in on those two crunch-time series. Tackles Eugene Monroe and Eben Britton helped give him time to throw in the face of several all-out blitzes by the Rams, and Thomas' drive-extending catch kept St. Louis' offense off the field in overtime.
"For Mike Thomas to make a great catch there on third down—a play that we needed—[was important,]" Garrard remarked after the game.
It wasn't the playoffs, or even for a playoff berth, and an overtime nail-biter against the winless Rams is hardly fit for a signature win. Without Garrard's turnover, arguably, Jacksonville could have closed out the game in less-dramatic fashion.
But after putting his team in a hole, Garrard had to prove himself capable of dragging them back out.
It's a brick in building of a reputation as a leader—instead of a "manager"—if nothing else.
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