NO TEAM has
improved more on offense over the past 12 months than the Jaguars, who now have
a real chance to scale Mount Indy and win their first division title since
Think of where
the Jags were a year ago. They'd shocked the NFL by cutting Byron Leftwich a
week before the opener and handing the starting quarterback job to longtime
backup David Garrard. They had no go-to receiver. They had a new offensive
coordinator, Dirk Koetter, who'd been fired by Arizona State and had never
coached in the NFL.
Then, in just the
second week of the season, Koetter was out of synch with coach Jack Del Rio,
who believed the Jaguars would forever play second fiddle to the Colts in the
AFC South until they developed a more potent passing game. After Koetter called
34 running plays on 63 snaps in a narrow win over the feeble Falcons, he got
the message from Del Rio.
'Dirk, come on. We've got to be more explosive,'" Koetter recalls. "I
was being conservative. We had such a strong running game that I didn't want
our passing to lose games."
Through a few
fits and starts—Garrard missed three midseason games with a sprained left
ankle—Koetter built the kind of attack Del Rio had been longing for. In their
last eight games, the Jaguars scored 256 points, second only to the high-flying
Patriots (258). Over the course of the year Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew,
the best one-two rushing attack in football, combined for 1,970 yards. Garrard
was remarkably efficient (a 64.0% completion rate, 18 touchdown passes and only
three interceptions) and, just as important, emerged as the kind of leader
Leftwich never was.
Koetter began to see the game the same way during a wintry four-week span in
which the Jaguars won twice at the Steelers' Heinz Field—including a gutty
31--29 wild-card playoff win. "You might not know it from my early years in
the league, but I like to air it out," the 30-year-old Garrard says.
"And when you have two backs as good as we've got, we're going to be able
to air it out easier because teams have to respect our running game so much. In
Pittsburgh in that first game [on Dec. 16], Dirk made a call in the third
quarter that really helped us win."
taken over at its 45-yard line, leading 16--7 with 19 minutes to play. The
commonsense move was to bleed the clock with Taylor and Jones-Drew. But Koetter
called for a play-action naked bootleg ... with Garrard's first option being a
bomb to Dennis Northcutt. Garrard, who's always been a good runner, had maybe
20 yards of open field in front of him, but, trusting Koetter, he heaved the
ball to Northcutt for a 55-yard touchdown. "Perfect call, perfect
time," says Garrard.
"It's O.K. to
take four-yard gains," says Koetter, "but you shouldn't work hard for
Given some new,
potentially dangerous weapons with the off-season acquisitions of wideouts
Jerry Porter and Troy Williamson, Garrard wants to stretch the defense more
while still playing 16 games as efficiently as last year. He'll need to if the
Jaguars are to have a chance to surpass Indianapolis. "It's not realistic
that I can throw three interceptions in a full season," he says, "but I
think I can be in single digits. I want to be accurate and explosive, and I
want to keep in mind that checkdowns can be a quarterback's best
season, don't expect Garrard and Jacksonville to be sneaking up on anyone. A
certain division powerhouse, in particular, is quite aware of which team is
closing the gap. "You could see as the season went on last year that the
Jaguars had more confidence in Garrard than any quarterback they've had since
Mark Brunell," Colts coach Tony Dungy says. "They are a real