Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
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."
Other things I saw, heard, observed or learned today:
* Denver came in with a good mindset. The Broncos clearly knew that Jacksonville was going to be physical, and they're not as physical, but they did well to match it for a good while.
"They stood their ground for a long time," cornerback Rashean Mathis said. "... We knew sooner or later our offense was going to put some points on the board and they were going to fold."
Broncos middle linebacker Nate Webster was particularly impressive dishing out hits, including the one that knocked Taylor out of the game for a long stretch, forcing a fumble. Though their helmets cracked against each other, Taylor said it was definitely not a fineable play but a good tackle. Taylor said the Jaguars were determined to be patient, knowing they'd win a physical battle in the end.
"They've got a lot of younger guys," he said. "A young player, he really can't be disciplined each and every play for an entire game. So you want to keep going and keep going and keep going and eventually their undisciplined actions will take place and they'll give up a lane or something."
Even Denver coach Mike Shanahan agreed his team petered out some.
Jack Del Rio will love to hear than, and may make sure his players are aware they put Denver in a spot where they had to admit it.
* The Jaguars' tight ends were involved more and looked good. Marcedes Lewis pulled in three balls for 64 yards, including a 30-yard TD catch, and Greg Estandia chipped in with two more for 26. Everyone said the tight ends weren't emphasized any more in the game plan, it was just a matter of them being open in Garrard's progressions.
Estandia was also the target on a big play on the last possession of the game, when the Jags earned four first downs and the privilege of kneeling on the ball to watch the clock tick down to the end. On a second-and-eight from the Jacksonville 41-yard line, Garrard threw deep up the left side for Estandia, who was bracketed by Marquand Manuel and Marlon McCree. McCree was flagged for a 27-yard pass interference penalty that sure looked like a phantom call.
Estandia said he didn't really know what happened.
"It looked on the replay like it was a close call," he said, being pretty politically correct. Said Shanahan: "I didn't think it was interference."
That makes two of us.
* Left guard Uche Nwaneri raised his hand and took the blame for the third-quarter sack by Broncos defensive tackle Kenny Peterson, who stormed right up the middle untouched and buried Garrard, forcing a fumble and killing a Jacksonville chance for at least a field goal to build on its 10-7 lead before intermission.
"That was my fault," Nwaneri said. "I let the nose tackle go free, trying to pick up the blitz they were bringing from everywhere. So that was on me. I went to the left, I should have stayed on the nose tackle. I said, 'My bad man, I got you next time...' "
How will it go when that play is reviewed in a film session?
"There won't be any cuss words, because we won," Nwaneri said with a grin. "But there is going to be an emphasis on making sure I know what I am supposed to do on that."
I am a big fan of the accountability: Or
ops to Nwaneri to owning up to his mistake.
* A 3-3 record is an entirely different deal than 2-4 for the Jaguars, who have a bye before three weeks against teams that are a combined 1-14. They'll get some injured people back for those games too. I know anything can happen, but are you picking Cleveland, Cincinnati or Detroit over this team?
"Getting back to .500 with 10 games left, that's a lot of football," Taylor said. "We know the schedule that's in front of us, a few not-so-great teams, but this is the NFL, so we can't sleep on those teams."
"I just think we have our own destiny in our hands," Garrard said. "We set our own agenda, like Jack likes to say, and I really believe that."
If the Jaguars do what they should, in four weeks they could be 6-3 and very much in the thick of things. But who ever does what they should anymore on one Sunday, better yet three in a row?
* While I'm not a huge fan of Shanahan's singular power, I think Denver is a first-class organization and from afar I like the way they operate. I love the environment of Invesco Field at Mile High.
And I have a good deal of respect for Cutler from watching him and getting to know him a bit when he was at Vanderbilt and tracking him leading up to the 2006 draft. I think they will win a Super Bowl or two during his career.
But ever since they changed to these uniforms, I've hated the curving stripe in their pants, which strikes me as a big comma or parenthesis.
Am I alone on this? Or are there others who watch them play and feel like the TV screen is filled with giant, orange punctuation befitting Sesame Street?