Neither record heat — 90 degrees at kickoff — a 33-minute lightning delay nor Tim Tebow could steal the spotlight from the Jaguars in their gutsy 24-17 Week One victory over the Broncos at EverBank Field on Sunday.
QB David Garrard’s three TDs — TE Marcedes Lewis was on the receiving end of two of them; free-agent acquisition Kassim Osgood hauled in the third score — and a sometimes dominant performance from the Jaguars’ new and improved defensive front led the way.
The Jaguars will travel cross-country in Week Two to face a much tougher AFC West opponent in the Chargers, who are licking their wounds after losing 21-14 to the Chiefs Monday night. It will be a great challenge, considering the Jags’ struggles on the West Coast in recent years, and Philip Rivers’ ability to stretch the field vertically.
The PFW Spin
Although it was only one game, against the Broncos, who folded like a card table in the second half of 2009, the significance of this win should not be understated. The Jaguars badly needed a strong performance out of the gate to give their fan base, which responds well when the team is winning, a reason for optimism early. With newcomers such as free-agent DE Aaron Kampman (1½ sacks, six QB hurries) and first-round DT Tyson Alualu (one sack, one hurry), energizing the “D,” and Garrard posting the third-highest passer rating in franchise history, they have good reason to be excited.
GM Gene Smith and head coach Jack Del Rio said throughout the offseason that the additions of Kampman and Alualu would greatly improve the D-line. The early returns are in, and Smith and Del Rio appear to be absolutely right. Kampman, less than a year removed from ACL surgery, was all over the football field, showing no ill effects from the injury he suffered last November. Alualu, the 10th overall selection in April’s draft, looks like a game changer in the middle. It won’t be long before he and ’09 third-rounder Terrance Knighton become a dominant pairing inside. Without losing sight of the fact that the Broncos had three offensive linemen playing for the first time in a regular-season NFL game, this performance by the front four was such a major departure from last season that it’s hard not to take notice.
And then there was the play of Garrard. Hammered in the offseason by Del Rio and owner Wayne Weaver, Garrard handled the criticism admirably, acknowledging that he must play better and showing a renewed work ethic and leadership quality throughout the offseason. With the help of a fantastic afternoon from his O-line — yet another area where the Jaguars appear to be much improved after allowing their quarterback to be hit more than any other in the league in ’09 — Garrard was fantastic. He got rid of the ball quickly, didn’t force any throws, developed a very nice rapport with second-year WR Mike Thomas and led the offense beautifully. We’ve been hearing for quite some time that Garrard will play better once he has better weapons around him. Well, now he does, and the quarterback we saw Sunday looked a lot more like the one who posted a 102.2 passer rating in ’07 than the one who had a 15-10 touchdown-to-interception ratio last season.
Are there areas of concern? Sure. The secondary is still an issue. CB Derek Cox was benched at halftime in favor of CB David Jones, who had been with the team barely a week since coming over from Cincinnati. And Mike Sims-Walker didn’t catch a ball all afternoon — he was targeted only twice. We're also not fully convinced that OLG Justin Smiley will be effective for 16 games.
But this is exactly the start to the season that Del Rio, on as hot a coaching seat as any around the league, desperately needed. He challenged his players in the offseason to work harder and raise their level of commitment, and on Sunday it paid off in a big way.