Leftwich has first 300-yard day of season

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Beaten but hardly bowed, Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Byron Leftwich made the rounds of his locker room late Sunday afternoon, offering a bit of encouragement to disappointed teammates and speaking confidently of a bright future.

It was, in essence, further confirmation of the role that the Jags' second-year starter has taken on himself. And appropriately enough, most of what transpired in the hard-fought division loss to the Indianapolis Colts also validated that, despite some uneven moments in Jacksonville's first three games of the season, Leftwich certainly has the talent to take his offense to much greater heights.

In what was clearly his best performance of this young season, Leftwich completed 29 of 41 passes for 318 yards, with one touchdown pass, zero interceptions and an impressive efficiency rating of 101.5. The yardage represented the second-most of his career and it was the third straight contest in which Leftwich did not throw an interception.

Then again, the only numbers that mattered to Leftwich were the ones on the scoreboard and, justifiably, the former Marshall star had reason for his obvious disappointment.

"I'm not looking for a good statistical game," said Leftwich, who has become the face for this quickly rebuilding franchise. "I'm looking for a good win."

Had the Jags offense found some answers on the plus side of the field, Leftwich and his emerging young team, indeed, might have discovered themselves still undefeated. But the offensive failures, the most glaring of which was getting into the end zone only one time despite venturing into Indianapolis territory on all nine possessions, demonstrated this is a unit that still has room for growth.

Then again, if Leftwich can build on Sunday's performance, there is some chance that the learning curve could be accelerated. Entering the game, Leftwich had thrown for a paltry average of 130.3 yards per outing, with a top outing of 147 yards. Only once in those first three games, had he completed more than 50 percent of his attempts.

Speaking to personnel officials around the NFL, and several players from teams that had faced Leftwich in the first month of the season, the consensus was that the youngster was both uneven and uncomfortable. On Sunday, though, Jacksonville offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave put Leftwich into his comfort zone, and the results were encouraging.

More so than in any other game this year, Leftwich operated from a shotgun formation, the set from which he had worked almost exclusively in college. There is some doubt, even among Jacksonville officials, about Leftwich's ability to work from under center. And if Sunday showed anything, it might have suggested that Musgrave and head coach Jack Del Rio lean a bit more heavily on the shotgun for the rest of the 2004 campaign.

Said one of Leftwich's teammates after the game: "He just gets into a rhythm so much better. His confidence is pretty obvious. He gets on a little bit of a roll and things seem to be easier for him, from a recognition standpoint, in the 'gun,' you know?"

The raw numbers from Sunday certainly seem to indicate that.

When in the shotgun, unofficially, Leftwich completed 24 of 30 passes for 283 yards, with one touchdown. His three longest completions, including a 40-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Jimmy Smith, all came when working from the shotgun. But the Jags gained just 12 yards on five rushes out of the shotgun, notable because their coaches feel the skills of tailback Fred Taylor are diminished a bit if Leftwich isn't under center.

Leftwich was sacked one time but rarely pressured beyond that, even after Jacksonville lost both of its starting tackles, Mike Pearson and Maurice Williams, to injuries. It is believed that Pearson tore at least one ligament in his right knee and will miss the rest of the season.

Beyond that, the most notable wounds to the Jacksonville offense were self-inflicted. The Jaguars had 35 snaps on the Indianapolis side of the 50-yard line and nine from inside the 25-yard line, but settled four times for field goal attempts. The Jags lost one fumble and, most egregiously, were stuffed twice on fourth-and-one plays, one from the Indianapolis 24, the other on the Colts 45 on their last series.

But the game also served notice that rookie wide receivers Reggie Williams and Ernest Wilford are emerging playmakers, that there is some burgeoning weaponry here and that this is an offense with growth potential.

"If we can hang together, we're going to be pretty good, I think," said Wilford, who had six catches for 56 yards. "I mean, for Byron, the sky is definitely the limit. And I think we will all get better with him."

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click hereInsider.