If there was ever a match made in football heaven, it's turnover-obsessed Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio and quarterback David Garrard, who doesn't give the ball away. Garrard enters December as the only NFL starter with zero interceptions, remarkable even considering that he missed three games in Jacksonville's 8--3 start with a high-ankle sprain. For the season he's completed 65.1% of his throws, and his 103.1 passer rating is 14 points higher than Peyton Manning's. And Garrard isn't just dinking and dunking to avoid the pick. Twenty-three of his 136 completions have gone for 20-plus yards, a higher percentage than Carson Palmer. "It's a lot of luck," Garrard says of staying interception-free. "Against San Diego [in Week 11], I threw three balls that were tipped at the line, and any one of them could have been intercepted. There's a couple of other things: My receivers have been getting excellent separation from defensive backs this year, and my pride won't allow me to mess up."
Talk about a week when that's most important. A game behind the 9--2 Colts in the AFC South with five to play, Jacksonville must win in Indinanapolis on Sunday to have a realistic hope of breaking the Colts' four-year stranglehold on the division. And to do that the Jaguars must take care of the ball better than they did on Oct. 22, when they committed three turnovers and lost to Indy 29--7. In that game Garrard went down early in the second quarter with the sprained ankle and the Colts leading 7--0; backup Quinn Gray promptly threw an interception that led to Indy's second touchdown, and Jacksonville was never in it after that.
Garrard was as stunned as anyone when Del Rio cut four-year starter Byron Leftwich before the season and handed the job to him. A career understudy—he had 18 mostly unimpressive starts in five seasons—Garrard says he can finally play without worry. "I know if I make one mistake, or two, the hook's not coming," he says. "It hurts a quarterback to play with that tension. Now, it's amazing how comfortable I feel."
On Sunday we'll see if that's enough to beat the Super Bowl champions.
BILL FRAKES (GARRARD)