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.''