AFC South: Jaguars-Broncos
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
|Doug Pensinger/Getty Images|
|Jacksonville quarterback David Garrard delivers a pass during the Jaguars' 24-17 win over Denver Sunday.|
DENVER -- Jay Cutler may lead the Denver Broncos to a second era of Super Bowl glory, but today in the rain in Invesco Field at Mile High, the third-year quarterback was very much the second-best signal-caller at work.
In a game of huge significance for Jacksonville, the Jaguars answered in virtually every way, getting the sort of efficient and effective quarterbacking that makes them go.
Down only a touchdown, Denver got the ball with 6:50 left. But a defense that had given up a late fourth-quarter scoring drive in every game this season finally did the job, presenting David Garrard and the offense with a three-and-out.
"We were able to get back on the field and run the clock out," Garrard said. "That is back to Jaguar football. This game today really looked exactly like Jaguar football and it felt good to get back to it."
Jaguar football is built around running backs and defense and creates an atmosphere where Garrard can be minimized as a game manager. He downplays his role, suggesting his job is merely to get the ball to his playmakers.
But a locker room full of teammates talks of him as their tone-setter. His poise can be contagious. He threw to eight different targets, connecting on 74 percent of his attempts en route to a 107 passer rating.
He threw one touchdown and no interceptions while coughing up a fumble when he was mauled through no fault of his own. (See details below.) He rolled comfortably in either direction, by design or out of necessity, buying time to search the field and helping tire out Denver's defense.
It was cleaner and crisper work than Cutler's.
He was 7-for-7 on his opening touchdown drive but only 47 percent from there while losing a fumble, throwing an interception (that was basically a punt) and struggling to work with an injury-depleted receiving corps that was over-reliant on Brandon Marshall. The performance -- and the supporting cast -- didn't live up to the hype that is building around Cutler, who's clearly better than the two quarterbacks drafted ahead of him in 2006 but may have been overly optimistic in an interview published recently in The Sporting News.
He said he didn't see why the Broncos couldn't score 30-plus points a week and didn't think there was an AFC team with a better chance at the Super Bowl than his.
"Of course Dave outplayed him," running back Fred Taylor said. "That's all to the receivers, the line giving him time. Dave's a good quarterback and Jay Cutler is a good quarterback. We created a little more pressure for Jay, he wasn't able to get settled in after he started out great, bang-bang-bang. He's a good quarterback, he's young, he has a lot of upside."
"Dave was better today, we won."
It's a good spot after an 0-2 start, considering they've already faced four division leaders. Now, Jacksonville has a bye followed by match-ups with Cleveland, Cincinnati and Detroit. Those three teams are a collective 1-14.
While Jacksonville missed safety Reggie Nelson, who missed his third straight game with a knee injury, the Broncos were thinned out at receiver and unable to do much for Jay Cutler.
Six games into the season, despite significant interior offensive line damage, they've done well to regain their balance.
And while Denver matched their toughness and physicality for a good share of this game, ultimately the Jags did well to build on that identity and use it to get a big win at a tough venue.
DENVER -- The Jaguars did a poor job of running the clock while trying to protect a two-touchdown lead, and now it's a one touchdown lead.
After a three and out that took only a little over a minute off the clock, the Jaguars punted the ball back to Denver.
Glenn Martinez nearly broke the return for a score, but got dragged down by punter Adam Podlesh. The tackle only served to slow down the Broncos a bit. Brandon Marshall's spectacular run after catch got him out of the grasp of three players and on to a 26-yard gain, one of three plays in a quick scoring drive.
Those of us already writing about how the Jags are leveling their record at 3-3 better get our heads back in the game. And the Jags better find a couple first downs if they want the result they're looking for.
Jones-Drew just went over the number as the Jaguars seem more dedicated to running it than they were a little while ago.
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
DENVER -- The Jaguars should be up by more that 10-7 at the half on the Broncos.
At worst, Jacksonville was going to get a field goal out of that drive. (I've got a lot of confidence in Josh Scobee.)
The Broncos are moving the ball pretty easily but turning it over and failing to finish. I feel like they've stepped up to match the Jaguars' physicality. The question is whether they can sustain it.
It would also be good if they blocked defensive tackles looking to get to Garrard in a straight line up the middle. And they may wind up looking back and regretting they turned two lost fumbles, an interception and a turnover on downs into only 10 points.
DENVER -- The Mile High City is a notoriously tough place to play, but the Jaguars don't have to look far for evidence of their ability to succeed here.
Last year in Week 3, Jacksonville came to Denver and left with a 23-14 win.
They did well to set a tone with a franchise-record game opening drive: 18 plays in 11:44 covering 80 yards.
"We were able to convert on third down," running back Fred Taylor said when asked about that game. "We minimized the turnovers and that allowed us to hold on to the ball a little bit. We did not shorten the field for them, field position helped us out I think. We want to try and do some of those same things."
The elevation can prove a problem in a loud and raucous stadium, especially for first-timers.
"It is tough," Taylor said. "The air is thin so it is hard to breathe, extremely hard to breathe. But you try to hydrate prior to getting there and that helps you a little bit. It is tough overall. The Broncos have a nice history behind their organization. The fans are loud, crazy and they are screaming all day. It will be a great atmosphere to play football."
I don't expect any of the Jaguars were as foolish as I was last time I covered a game here -- when I went with a buddy to Pikes Peak shortly after landing and wound up wobbly the rest of my stay. (Probably couldn't have happened today, since it's snowing up there.)
I'll stick to downtown this evening and tonight.
Then the plan is to catch Baltimore-Indianapolis in the INVESCO Field at Mile High press box before blogging from Jaguars-Broncos. I'm looking forward to talking with you then.
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
At 2-3 the Jacksonville Jaguars sit behind nine teams in the AFC, and are tied with San Diego.
Their defensive inconsistencies, inability to establish the run game week-to-week and offensive line injuries may be too much to overcome.
But for those looking for reason to hope things can get better, there is this: The Jaguars are the only team in the NFL to face four division leaders in the first six weeks who's combined record is 19-9.
They played tight games with Tennessee, Buffalo and Pittsburgh, but lost all three. Next up, a trip to Denver. If they can win that one to get to 3-3, they've potentially got a much better month ahead of them.
After a bye, Jacksonville should beat Cleveland at home and win at Cincinnati and at Detroit (those three teams are a combined 1-12). All of a sudden, if they are sitting 6-3, they would be right back in the mix for at least a Wild Card spot. (The Titans are likely to lose some games, but they've still got Kansas City, Detroit and Cleveland on their schedule.)
I've thought losing two starting guards for the year would be too much for the Jaguars to overcome. But looking at where they've been and where they are going, it's way too early to suggest they won't compete for a postseason berth.
If the glass is half full you could say that David Garrard has shown, at times, that he's capable of being the quarterback he was last year; that Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew are going to have some easier Sunday afternoons; that the defense probably has not played up to its talent yet.
The Jaguars finish the season at Baltimore on Dec. 28. There are too many variables to count between now and then. But on this October Wednesday, I'm thinking that could amount to a first-round playoff game.
Nelson's been out with a bruised knee for two games -- that's a broad description that can cover a lot of injuries and doesn't help us formulate much of a timetable. Without him or cornerback Drayton Florence (groin), Jacksonville had to dip too deep into its reserves against Pittsburgh and William James was victimized by Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
"We hope to be able to get at least one of the guys back," coach Jack Del Rio said Monday. "It looks like Drayton will have a better chance to get back than Reggie at this point. We'll just see. I don't need to declare yet, don't want to declare yet but we're going to take a look at that. Reggie is a little further behind than Drayton is at this point. Coming out of the weekend, we feel a little bit better about getting Drayton back."
The Jaguars have some versatile players such as Brian Williams, but few teams are deep enough to play well minus a starting safety and corner. That's especially the case for the Jaguars because of their inconsistent pass rush.
Here's who you'll be hearing Sunday if you're watching an AFC South game on TV:
- Baltimore at Indianapolis, 1 p.m.: CBS, Jim Nantz and Phil Simms
- Miami at Houston, 1 p.m.: CBS, Ian Eagle, Solomon Wilcots
- Jacksonville at Denver, 4:05 p.m.: CBS, Greg Gumbel, Dan Dierdorf
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
Our morning waltz around the division...
- The Texans are looking to rebound from a devastating loss and they'll do it behind Matt Schaub, write John McClain.
- Jerome Solomon compares the Texans to the one team that started 0-4 and went to the playoffs.
- McClain talks to Houston native Dennis Quaid about pro football in his hometown.
- The Colts are looking for their dramatic turnaround in Houston to spark a change of direction for the season, writes Mike Chappell.
- Tony Dungy doesn't seem worried about injuries to Dwight Freeney or Anthony Gonzalez, says the AP.
- The Jaguars are struggling to establish their identity, writes Vito Stellino.
- Three women were injured when a glass panel fell at Jacksonville Municipal Stadium Sunday, Stellino said.
- Fan reaction to the Jaguars' current state, from the Florida Times-Union.
- Is Jack Del Rio's sticking with the plan amounting to stubbornness, asks Cole Pepper.
- Gene Frenette wonders where the Jaguars' fearsome defense is.
- "In the past 10 years, a total of 21 teams started 5-0, including this year's Titans. All but one ended up making the playoffs and four went on to win the Super Bowl, most recently the 2006 Colts, writes Jim Wyatt.
- As expected the Titans re-signed Chris Simms and Jeff Fisher called him important to the Titans' future, writes Gary Estwick. It sounded like Fisher meant future beyond this season.
- If the Titans had lost in Baltimore, Keith Bulluck's shove of Cortland Finnegan and their little in-house battle would have been a much bigger deal, says Wyatt.
- Brodie Croyle is on track to start at QB for the Chiefs when the Titans next play.