The Jacksonville Jaguars took possession with 2:38 to play in last night's game against the Steelers trailing by one point. That meant they would need their quarterback to lead them to a winning score on the road ... in a hostile environment at Heinz Field.
That might not have been a big deal had the quarterback been Peyton Manning or Tom Brady. But the quarterback was David Garrard, a fourth-year player making his first postseason start.
But Garrard's best attribute is his grit and mental toughness, which is why his teammates didn't doubt his leadership abilities. Eight plays later, the Jaguars got a 25-yard field goal from Josh Scobee to record a 31-29 victory.
"One of the things about this team is that we trust each other, we trust that everyone is going to do their job," center Brad Meester said. "And we know David. He's not going to be rattled. This was an ugly game at times, but that's what happens in the playoffs when you have two teams fighting their tails off to win, and we knew he'd make the plays and get us down there and in position to score."
Garrard didn't have his best game -- he was 9 for 21 passing for 140 yards with two interceptions -- but he made enough key plays to lead the Jaguars to their first playoff victory under fifth-year coach Jack Del Rio.
He made the biggest play of the night on the final drive when he ran a quarterback draw on fourth-and-2 at the Steelers' 43 to the Steelers' 11 for a first down. That play, as much as any other, won the game for the Jaguars.
Garrard, in typical fashion, said he wanted the ball on that fourth-down play.
"I actually wanted that play on third down," he said. "They called for the play on fourth down and I knew they weren't going to stop me for 2 yards. I was just happy to break out into the open. At first I thought the safety was going to tackle me and I was getting ready to fall, but he didn't tackle me so I thought I could score, but then I realized how slow I am so I was happy to just get in field-goal range because that is all we needed."
The Jaguars didn't appear as if they would need big plays down the stretch when they raced to a 21-7 halftime lead and led, 28-10, as the fourth quarter began. But Garrard threw two interceptions and the Steelers rallied to take a 29-28 lead.
Garrard said that those things are going to happen in big games, but the key to the Jaguars' success has been their ability to battle back.
"Winning was sweet, even when it gets ugly," Garrard said. "We play 60 minutes, that's what it is all about. It was a great team victory. I made some poor throws and you hate to put the team in that position, it is part of football. But it is really how you respond to those things and we responded well as an offense, it wasn't just me out there. I know they believe in me and I believe in them."
And for his part, Del Rio wasn't nervous when Garrard and the offense took the field for that final drive.
"Winners make winning plays and that is what it takes to win in this league in the playoffs," Del Rio said. "David has played big for us all year, he has made plays to help us win games and that is what you want from your quarterback and from your leader. But I thought our team did a great job of executing that play against the look they gave us and David made a great play. But David made some big throws on that drive as well. I'm really happy for him."
Paul Zeise can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-1720.