Garrard Shrugs Off Playoff Hype

By Carl Kotala
Updated: January 2, 2008

JACKSONVILLE — David Garrard’s playoff experience consists of eight passes thrown in mop-up duty two seasons ago in a loss to New England.

But the Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback has been around football long enough to know while there will be more pressure and national hype when he makes his first NFL postseason start Saturday, there’s no sense worrying about it.

“Absolutely not. Why let the pressure get to you?” Garrard said Tuesday. “There’s no point to it. You get to go play football. I’ve been doing it for a long time now. Don’t get scared now that you get into the playoffs. It’s still a football game.

“It’s not like they’ve got rocket-propelled jet packs on their back. It’s not like they get any bigger, or any faster. It’s still football. That’s how you approach it. Anybody out there that doesn’t know how to approach big games . . . they’re still games.”

When Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio inserted Garrard into the starting lineup and sent Byron Leftwich packing following the final preseason game, there were a lot of stories written speculating he had made a mistake.

But after a season in which Garrard played better than even Del Rio probably could have imagined, the Jaguars (11-5) will make their sixth playoff appearance in franchise history Saturday night when they visit the Pittsburgh Steelers (10-6) at Heinz Field.

Does Del Rio now feel vindicated?

“I really don’t take that view,” the Jaguars coach said. “You know how us coaches get, I’m just trying to win the next one. Certainly, David has played very well for us and our team has had a good solid year, but, beyond that, we’re just preparing for the next opportunity.”

Garrard’s passer rating of 102.2 ranked third in the NFL behind New England’s Tom Brady (117.2) and Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger (103.9). He threw fewer interceptions (three) than any other NFL starting quarterback, and he was also the NFL’s top-rated passer on third down (128.8) and ranked fifth in the NFL in fourth-quarter passing (103.9).

A satisfying season? You bet.

“Personally, it definitely has. It couldn’t have been any better,” Garrard said. “And I think (it has been) for the team. I think everybody’s main goal was to make it to the postseason. I think everybody’s definitely happy with what we’ve done this year. But it’s not over. We have a long way to go.”

The fact Garrard has not taken a snap as a starter in the playoffs is likely to come up a lot this week, especially in drawing comparisons with Roethlisberger. Four years ago, the Steelers quarterback, in his rookie season, led Pittsburgh to the AFC Championship Game.

A year later, they won the Super Bowl.

Could that experience factor be a difference?

“Obviously, you’re talking about unknown stuff,” Del Rio said. “We’ll find out. Their quarterback (Roethlisberger), the last time it was an unknown for him, he did a heck of a job and went straight to the tournament and did something everybody said couldn’t be done. So I think you get an opportunity to go compete.

“I think the biggest thing for David, and for all of us, is to focus on the preparation, and then go out there and put forth a good effort. I think those are things you focus on as a competitor. I don’t think you get caught up in how it’s going to be viewed, what the ramifications are. I think you focus on the task at hand, and go out there and compete. I think he’ll do a nice job of that.”

Given the success of the Jacksonville running game in a 29-22 win Dec. 16 in Pittsburgh — the Jaguars ran for 224 yards — Garrard could be called upon to play a more pivotal role Saturday night because the Steelers will no doubt come out determined to stop the run.

What some people may forget about that game is while the Jaguars dominated the game on the ground, Garrard also threw for three touchdown passes, including a 55-yarder to wide receiver Dennis Northcutt.

Jacksonville will carry a three-game winning streak against Pittsburgh into the game, but no team has ever beaten the Steelers twice — in Pittsburgh — in the same season.

“I think Pittsburgh is always mad at us, and we are always mad at them,” Garrard said. “It’s just that kind of game. We know it’s going to be a physical game, and it’s going to come down to the last second on the clock.

“. . . We’re going to be ready for it all. We’re going to fight as hard as possible, and I’m sure they are going to be ready, too.”

Turf wars?

During a conference call with Pittsburgh reporters Tuesday, Jacksonville running back Fred Taylor created a little stir with his comments about the condition of Heinz Field.

“That field is terrible,” Taylor said. “That’s a lawsuit pending. That’s ridiculous. But you are up there where it rains a lot and snows. That is just what happens, and those are the elements. Maybe they should try to invest in field turf next year or in the future.”

Asked about those comments in the Jaguars’ locker room, Taylor tried to clarify those remarks. Apparently, he was only kidding.

“Guys got to be able to take a joke from time to time,” Taylor said. “There’s nothing overly bad about it. Actually, I was referring to that Monday night (game) versus the Dolphins. It was terrible then.

“Granted, we played on a snowy, muddy field . . . that’s part of the game. That’s football. I’ve got to tease from time to time. It’s all good.”