Jaguars Pass Character Test

Just four weeks ago the Jaguars were riding on top of a huge wave of momentum as the team just finished their annihilation of their division rivals, the Houston Texans. That victory left the team with a 4-1 record entering their Monday night showdown with the defending Super Bowl champion Colts.

At halftime of the Monday night game, the team hit a new low as quarterback David Garrard injured his ankle, and the Jaguars were only halfway through receiving their eventual 29-7 beatdown.

That loss left the team at 4-2, and that was the really good news. The bad news is that the Jaguars were about to embark on a three-game road trip (the only team in the NFL that has one) in which they would likely be without their starting quarterback. To make matters worse, the opponents were first-place Tampa Bay, red hot New Orleans, and division rival and wildcard leader, Tennessee.

Coach Jack Del Rio talked about the task--

"I don't know that it gets much more difficult. Certainly that's a tall order. We will need everybody functioning and bringing all they have in order to have a chance. Certainly we need to take them one by one because if you at them all together that's an awful lot to take on."

The Jaguars used their strengths-- the running game and an opportunistic defense, and a little luck--a few blown coverages which resulted in overthrows instead of touchdowns, to escape Tampa Bay with a 24-23 victory in the first game of the road trip. The Jaguars didn't do anything extremely well in the game, but they found a way to win.

The Jaguars head coach talked about the victory--

"To be able to do that with your backup quarterback and missing our starting corner and all that, it made it even a little bit sweeter. Obviously it was, I said it yesterday, a complete team effort."

The following week was chock full of distractions, as it was made public that Pro Bowl defensive tackle Marcus Stroud would be suspended for four games for violating the league's performance enhancing substances policy. It would only get worse as two other Jaguars, Richard Collier and Justin Durant were both arrested just hours before the team plane left for New Orleans. To make matters even worse, starting left tackle Khalif Barnes violated a team rule which caused him not to start, and the Jaguars would be without starting quarterback David Garrard and cornerback Brian Williams for the second consecutive game. The Jaguars were no match for the Saints, as New Orleans racked up 539 yards of total offense, and thrashed the Jaguars 42-24.

That loss left the Jaguars in what was nearly a must-win situation in Tennessee, a game in which they would play without their starting quarterback and three-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle, as well as their best offensive lineman in Chris Naeole, who went down for the season with a quad injury. To make matters worse, the Jaguars faced a team with the second-ranked defense in the league, and the third-ranked rushing attack.

Jack Del Rio described the atmosphere--

"It comes after a loss; that happens. New Orleans, the first four weeks of the year, right? What's wrong with these guys? They're bums. It's the nature of the game that we play now. The NFL of today, it's week to week. You go from the penthouse to the outhouse and then back to the penthouse and then back to the outhouse. It's up and down. People are wanting to crown champions in October. There's a lot of football left to be played. I think for us we have to stay the course, stay with our convictions, continue to work hard, continue to work to be a better football team. The NFL season is more of a marathon. It really is a long year. You're going to be tested, there is going to adversity. How you preserve says a lot about what you're going to be as a team."

The Jaguars regrouped through all their injuries and off the field issues, and pounded the Titans on the road. That win leaves the team at 6-3, and there will be no talk of Del Rio's losing the team, the team losing their identities, and the Jaguars needing a face-lift on both sides of the ball, at least for another week.

Jack Del Rio talked about where the Jaguars are--

"We talked about the need to be committed to our purpose and remain unified. It's a nice start to the second half of our season."

This victory puts the Jaguars in a very enviable position entering their home stretch against the San Diego Chargers and Buffalo Bills, both teams whose offenses are struggling. The Jaguars will have an opportunity to hold tie-break scenarios over both teams, who are wildcard contenders. The Jaguars are now one game behind the Colts for the division lead, and have one game left with the reigning kings of the NFL in three weeks. With quarterback David Garrard likely returning this week, the Jaguars can make their move now and prove themselves to be a legitimate contender, against what appears to be one of the toughest finishing schedules in the NFL.

Charlie Bernstein is the Editor-in-Chief of, and a regular syndicated contributor to, Sirius NFL Radio, MySpace Sports and Charlie is also a member of the Pro Football Writers Association, and is a columnist for the New Smyrna Observer. Feel free to contact him -HERE- with questions or comments.

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