By Anthony McClean, Editor In Chief Emeritus NEW HAVEN (BASN) —...
Garrard Comes Through For Jacksonville
PHILADELPHIA — I have to admit that I took some heat warranted and unwarranted recently when I called for David Garrard to be in the Pro Bowl instead of Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
After the many e-mails and responses that I received, I figured that I would let this past weekend’s wild-card playoff game in Pittsburgh help in making my argument.
Going into the game I thought the physical Jaguars had a legitimate shot of knocking off the Steelers. But they surely couldn’t do the impossible of winning at Heinz field for the second time in one season (won in week 15)… Right.
The game at first was an abysmal affair especially for the Steelers as both quarterbacks struggled. Roethlisberger led his team on a scoring drive on their first series only to later throw three interceptions with one being returned for a touchdown all in the first half.
Garrard on the other hand started out well leading the Jags to a 21-7 halftime lead mainly due to the hard running of running back Maurice Jones-Drew (168 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns in his first-ever playoff appearance), but the Jaguars and their leader lost their rhythm in the second half.
The Jaguars abandoned their running game in the second half preferring to uncharacteristically throw the ball. All the throws caused Garrard to lose his swagger and produced two surprise interceptions from a quarterback that had thrown only three picks in the entire 16-game regular season.
Right about that time, Big Ben shook off his horrendous first half numbers to guide the men of steel to a 29-28 point lead with the home crowd driven into the frenzy.
At this point everyone figured Jaguars head coach Jack Del Rio’s group was falling apart in the playoffs again and they looked like a team that blew a golden chance by not stepping on a dying foe and breathing new life into the Steelers by forgetting their game plan.
With the game and the Jaguars’ season on the line, the first-time playoff starter made the play of his five-year NFL career. It was fourth-and-two from the Pittsburgh 42 yard line when Garrard got the call from the sidelines for “QB 40 base” — The quarterback sneak play made him smile, because he knew the game was in his hands.
The 245-pound signal caller from East Carolina not only made the 2 yards up the middle, but he made the heady play of not falling down at the marker and continued scampering for an amazing 32 yards to set up kicker Josh Scobee’s 25-yard game-winner.
At that point it was shut and leave time for the raucous Pittsburgh crowd.
Garrard may have finished with pedestrian passing numbers of 9 for 21, 140 yards, a touchdown with two interceptions, but it was his five rushes for 58 yards including the crucial aforementioned fourth and two 32-yard run that cemented his status as a leader (earlier questioned after former first rounder Byron Leftwich was cut in the preseason handing the reigns to the 5-5 starter in 2006).
Garrard willed his team to victory in a fashion that reminds me a lot of the 2000 version of former Tennessee Titans quarterback Steve McNair. Just like the former Titans Super Bowl quarterback, Garrard may not do everything perfect, but what he lacks in artistic numbers he more than makes up for by leading his team with a gritty determined style that produces wins.
After the game Garrard said of the crucial play, “They kind of lost their gaps, they thought pass, I was able to get through there”. He added, “I just wanted to get a first down. I did enough to get into field-goal range and that was all I was thinking about.”
I am not going to go over the ledge and predict a Jaguars win over the mighty Patriots just yet. However I do firmly believe that the Jaguars can go up to Foxboro and give the “Evil Empire” all they can handle if they are physical starting with Garrard leading the offense with a “smash-mouth” ground attack and former Pro Bowl corner Rashean Mathis matching up with Randy Moss.
The key will be to keep the chains moving and keep the NFL all-time single season scoring attack on the sidelines. We know the Eagles, Ravens, and Giants valiantly came close to slaying the dragon, but it will take a special effort to stop the machine that is the Patriots.
Usually the task would be termed “Herculean” or “Mission Impossible”, but I like to call it “David vs. Goliath” and we know how that one ended.