PHOTO: Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Byron Leftwich walks off the field after a series of downs against the New England Patriots during the third quarter of their wild card playoff football game in Foxborough,. Mass., Saturday, Jan. 7, 2006. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson)
Don't look for the Jaguars to make a lot of changes in the offseason.
Even though they lost to the New England Patriots, 28-3, in their first round playoff game, they feel they're headed in the right direction.
"We definitely feel that when you get a taste of the playoffs, it makes you hungry for more. We got a little taste and got ourselves into a playoff game and went on the road against the defending champs and we weren't quite good enough. I think we came out of that game hungry for more," he said.
Del Rio said that the next step is to try to get one of the two bye slots in the AFC so they can rest in the first round.
"We're going to look for ways to be better. We can strengthen ourselves to be a team that's resting on wild card weekend and earning a home playoff game to advance. If you that that, that's a significant step towards the ultimate goal of winning a world championship. It doesn't guarantee anything, but to me that's next on the wish list," Del Rio said.
Del Rio also noted that things that get masked in the regular season sometimes get exposed in the playoffs and the Patriots certainly did that Saturday night.
"We'll take a good hard look at how we played and where we broke down. We understand we still have work to do. We're not blind to that," he said.
Overall, though, Del Rio seemed upbeat about his offensive players even though they scored just three touchdowns in four games against the Colts (twice), Broncos and Patriots.
He said he likes his corps of running backs and the progress his young receivers are making.
And he repeated there's no quarterback controversy and said Byron Leftwich remains the starter as long as he's healthy even though he said backup David Garrard improved in his five starts this year.
Del Rio also said the Jaguars have to find a way to keep Leftwich from taking too many shots from defensive players.
"Yes, I'm concerned about that. I want him to get rid of the ball sooner and not take shots. Byron is so tough and determined to make the great throw that he'll sit in there and take shots. He's not afraid of contact and that's a good thing. But we need him to protect himself. We need him to be healthy for 16 games. That's something we've got to help him improve on. If you continue to take shots like he has, he's going to continue to spend time on the sidelines and he's too valuable for us to have that occur," Del Rio said.
And Brian VanGorder, the linebacker coach who's leaving for Georgia Southern, is the only assistant coach who's expected to depart.
So the Jaguars expect to have the core of their team back next year.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
The Jaguars took a positive step in the right direction when they made the playoffs for the first time in six years and posted a 12-4 record that was the best since they went 14-2 in 1999.
They also played with a toughness that coach Jack Del Rio likes in his team. In the playoff game at New England, Khalif Barnes, a rookie left tackle, broke a non-weight bearing bone in his leg but still played the second half.
And Mike Peterson suffered a sprained wrist a week ago that will require surgery, but he still played with a cast on his arm. And Byron Leftwich played against the Patriots on a broken ankle. That's the kind of tough team that Del Rio has built.
WHAT WENT WRONG
The Jaguars still don't have enough playmakers that can make big plays against contending teams.
In four games against the Colts (twice), Denver and New England, they scored only three touchdowns and two of them came against the Colts in the fourth quarter when after they trailed 26-3.
Despite their 12-4 record, they went 9-1 against losing teams and have to prove next year that they've really taken a step forward and aren't just a team that feasted on a weak schedule. They need to find more playmakers in the draft or free agency.
The Jaguars trailed the Patriots by a 7-3 score at halftime and thought they were poised for a second half comeback when New England struck for three touchdowns in an eight-minute span to turn the game into a rout.
On their first possession of the third period, the Patriots marched 81 yards in 12 plays with Tom Brady throwing the second of his three touchdown passes to David Givens on a three-yard toss.
After Jimmy Smith dropped a third down pass and forced the Jaguars to punt, Ben Watson caught a short pass and went 63 yards for the touchdown that made it 21-3. He broke three tackles as Mike Peterson, playing with a cast on his wrist, missed the first one because he couldn't grab him.
On the first play of the fourth quarter, Asante Samuel intercepted a Byron Leftwich pass and ran 73 yards for the touchdown that clinched the game.