Quarterback Controversy In Jacksonville?

Timing is everything. And while Jacksonville should be celebrating their first return to the playoffs since 1999, they may have to settle a quarterback controversy that is looming.

Jacksonville clinched a wild-card playoff spot Saturday with a 38-20 victory over the Houston Texans as quarterback David Garrard showed his ability to be effective with both his arms and his legs.

He passed for 292 yards and a touchdown and ran for 40 yards. The Jaguars will close out the regular season with a game against Tennessee and then will play on the road the following week in their playoff opener.

Garrard, who has played since Byron Leftwich cracked a bone in his ankle on Nov. 27 against Arizona, seems to be getting in a groove. But Leftwich is off crutches and wants to play.

Coach Jack Del Rio said Leftwich is still his quarterback, but he added a lot of qualifiers.

"When he is able to practice well enough to show me that he can lead the offense the way he was leading it before the injury, then yeah, he'll be our quarterback," Del Rio said. "But right now we need to make sure he's not coming back too soon, that he's not hobbling around, but that he's ready to help us win. I'm going to do what's best for this football team to help us be in the best position to win games.

"The first thing I want to do is see Byron move. He ran a little bit at the end of (last) week. He was throwing the ball a little bit on the side, and he seems pretty confident that he's going to be able to be out there for practice (this week). So until I see him and get the clearance from the doctors, I can't really say anything other than that I know he's optimistic and encouraged. But we're going to need to see him perform, move and do things and get clearance. There's a lot of work to be done before we're ready to declare what the intentions are for this week."

In effect, Del Rio has to decide whether to go with a rusty Leftwich or give Garrard a shot in the playoffs.

In the end, it may not matter which decision Del Rio makes because the Jaguars are not exactly battle-tested for the playoffs. They're 8-1 against losing teams and 3-3 against winning teams.

They've played against only one winning team since mid-October and lost 26-18 to Indianapolis in a game in which they added two meaningless touchdowns late in the game after falling behind 26-3.

The real question is whether they can beat a playoff team with either Garrard or Leftwich at quarterback.

PLAYER NOTES

--DE Paul Spicer suffered an injury to his left hand when he hit a helmet in pregame warm-ups Saturday. Although he saw some action with a heavy wrap on the hand, he may have a broken bone, and it could hinder his effectiveness in the playoffs.

--RB Greg Jones was inactive for the Houston game with a jammed neck that still is bothering him. The Jaguars don't know if he'll be back for the playoffs in two weeks.

--RB Fred Taylor, back from an ankle injury, appears to be getting back in a groove as he ran for 101 yards against Houston.


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