Jaguars' season beginning to look like it was meant to be

To be or not to be? When it comes to the Jacksonville Jaguars, that question already has been answered in the affirmative.

When Fred Taylor took his first handoff on Sunday against the Oakland Raiders and raced 62 yards to the end zone, it was as if he were making a statement about a 10-year Pro Bowl snub that is as criminal as not allowing Mother Teresa through the Pearly Gates.

In Sunday's 49-11 rout of the Raiders -- Jacksonville's 11th win of the season -- Taylor topped 100 yards rushing for the fifth consecutive game and posted an eye-popping 15.8 yards per carry. Taylor entered the game as the first alternate running back to the AFC Pro Bowl roster, behind Willie Parker, LaDainian Tomlinson and Joseph Addai. But when Parker sustained a season-ending injury Thursday night in St.Louis, Taylor says Parker sent him a text message with some interesting news.

"I was leaving our team's Christmas Party when I received a text from Willie congratulating me on going to the Pro Bowl," Taylor said. "He knew his season was over with the injury but still took the time to congratulate me."

Taylor met Parker through mutual friend Plaxico Burress when they began working out during the offseason some years ago in Davie, Fla.

"I feel bad for Willie," Taylor said. "I told him to stay positive through his rehabilitation, because it will help him during his recovery."

Taylor refused to discuss the possibility of going to Hawaii as a result of an injury to his good friend.

"There has been too much talk about Pro Bowls and individual achievements," Taylor said. "We're focused on getting into the playoffs and doing something special."

Taylor believes this is the best team he's been apart of during his 10 years in Jacksonville, but he says there are other team leaders who deserve credit for holding it all together.

"It was LB Mike Peterson who called the team together after Byron Leftwich was released before the regular season," Taylor said, in reference to the sudden quarterback change that made David Garrard the starter at the end of training camp. "He said, 'This is David's team now, so lets go out and celebrate his opportunity instead of mourning what has happened to Byron.'"

It took time for Taylor to fully accept the decision made by his coach, Jack Del Rio. "I was frustrated that day. Byron is a good friend of mine, so I had to let the players know that this was an example of how you can't relax in this league, no matter who you are, or what you have done."

The decision, however, has proven to be as monumental as it has been precise. The team lost its final three games last season with Garrard as the starting quarterback, but this season he has led the Jags to nine wins in 12 starts (he missed three games in midseason with an ankle injury). Moreover, the Jaguars have locked up a playoff berth and are looking at a wild-card game at either Pittsburgh or San Diego in the first round of the playoffs.

Individually, Garrard has been stellar. He has completed 64 percent of his passes and thrown for 18 touchdown. His total of only three interceptions in 325 pass attempts this year is the best ratio of any quarterback in the league.

"All that I've done with this team, I've done with the mindset of winning," Del Rio said. "I'm constantly evaluating, and all changes are designed to improve the team and help us win. The quarterback is playing at a high level right now; he has taken his game to another level."

Garrard is appreciative for the opportunity to compete, but his view of his own role in the Jaguars success is a testament to his unselfish leadership.

"In the past, it was the Byron Leftwich show," Garrard said. "But coach Del Rio let us compete during training camp. That was a big thing when he allowed us compete fairly."

During a the three-game stretch when Garrard sat out, he began to see things differently. "It gave me a unique perspective, watching the game while I was hurt," he said. "I learned that it's not all about me having to win the game by throwing the ball. We have a good defense and a running game, so we don't have to throw to win, but when we do, we have the use of play-action."

Garrard credits new offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter and quarterback coach Mike Shula for the success of the Jaguars' juggernaut offense. The team has posted five straight games with more than 400 total yards and nine consecutive games with at least 24 points. Garrard says his goal is simply to be efficient as a quarterback and nothing more. His perspective is crystal clear.

"I've grown from my failures of the past," he said. "It's about the team. We win, and all things will come our way; the Pro Bowls and the contracts. Fred Taylor making the Pro Bowl makes the whole community happy."

If nice guys finish last, then why are the Jaguars winning? One shy of their second 12-win season in three years, Del Rio's team is full of unselfish guys who possess a deadly left hook, in the form of a heavyweight running game, and a right cross, disguised as a knockout defense.

In the NFL, you get what you earn. Even Mother Teresa likely would endorse this group, in more ways than one.

Former NFL defensive back Solomon Wilcots is an analyst for the NFL Network and a color commentator for CBS.

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