Win in Pittsburgh altered landscape for Jaguars

Jacksonville Jaguars center Brad Meester remembers every detail

of the play.

His snap, his block, his celebration. Every nuance is as clear

as David Garrard’s run on a fourth-and-2 play that stunned the

Pittsburgh Steelers in the 2007 playoffs. Meester also recalls

officials failing to flag teammate Khalif Barnes for what seemed

like an obvious hold.

”Everybody was talking about that,” Meester said Wednesday.

”Luckily, it didn’t get called so we can’t say he held. That’s

definitely a play that will be remembered for quite some time – for

the run and the hold, too, I guess.”

Equally memorable, and certainly a topic of conversation as the

Jaguars (1-4) prepare to return to Pittsburgh, is the aftermath of

Jacksonville’s 31-29 victory. It was the franchise’s first

postseason victory in eight years, but has since been dubbed the

”worst win” in team history.

The Jaguars rewarded Garrard with a six-year, $60 million

contract extension that included $19 million guaranteed. They gave

Del Rio a four-year, $21 million deal. They kept former personnel

director James ”Shack” Harris, who was so convinced the team was

close to winning a championship that, three months later, he traded

seven draft picks to select defensive ends Derrick Harvey and

Quentin Groves in the first and second rounds, respectively.

Those moves altered the landscape of the small-market

franchise.

”That was a big turn for us, no doubt,” Meester said.

Garrard completed 9 of 21 passes for 140 yards, with a touchdown

and two interceptions, against the Steelers. It’s certainly

plausible to think Garrard would not have gotten the richest

contract in franchise history without the following week’s game at

New England. He was 22 of 33 for 278 yards, with two touchdowns and

an interception in a loss to the Patriots.

After going 20-26 as the starter the last three years, Garrard

was released five days before the season opener.

Del Rio is 21-32 since that playoff victory at Pittsburgh and

had to convince team owner Wayne Weaver to stick around following

three consecutive non-winning seasons. Weaver made it clear in

January that the team needed to make the playoffs to avoid major

changes, so Del Rio could be coaching his final season in

Jacksonville.

Not surprisingly, Del Rio said he didn’t believe Garrard’s

32-yard run in the closing minutes was a pivotal moment for the

organization.

”I think that’s kind overly dramatic,” Del Rio said. ”I

wouldn’t look at it that way.”

Del Rio, though, has acknowledged that the team miscalculated

when assessing how close it was to winning a title following that

season. At the time, Del Rio and Harris justified the draft-day

trades by saying few rookies would have made the roster. He added

that swapping picks, especially numerous ones, was not the sound

way to build a program.

The Jaguars have been rebuilding since, forced to revamp a

defense that was one of the worst in the league in 2008, 2009 and

2010.

Harvey and Groves are no longer in Jacksonville, and the Jaguars

have spent millions in free agency and several draft picks to make

another run at fortifying the defensive line.

”After that game, the next year everybody thought we had a

chance to win the Super Bowl,” running back Maurice Jones-Drew

said. ”We got hit with a rash of injuries, some bad luck went our

way and everything blew up.”

It all started with Garrard’s run.

Jacksonville led 28-10 to start the fourth quarter, but the

Steelers scored 19 unanswered points to take the lead. Facing a

fourth-and-2 play at the Pittsburgh 43, Garrard took the shotgun

snap and ran through the left side untouched. Replays clearly

showed Barnes grabbing James Harrison’s jersey, preventing him from

having a shot at Garrard.

The NFL later acknowledged that the officiating crew missed the

call.

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin got testy when asked about the game

Wednesday and even hung up on Jacksonville reporters during a

conference call.

”That’s one of those plays that you’ll never forget,” Tomlin

said. ”It was a big play.”

It was huge for Jacksonville, and in hindsight, not for all the

right reasons.

”There’s a lot of that game I don’t remember,” Meester said.

”But that run, you remember vividly. I remember going up there

thinking it was all on that play. It was an unbelievable feeling.

It was something I will always remember, one of my most memorable

games, no doubt.”