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Leftwich leads Jags to victory

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (Nov. 20, 2005) -- The Tennessee Titans dared Byron Leftwich to beat them. The Jacksonville quarterback responded with a career performance.

Leftwich threw for three touchdowns for the first time in his NFL career and ran for a fourth score in the Jaguars' third consecutive victory -- 31-28 against Tennessee.

"We have no problem doing that," Leftwich said. "You wish as a quarterback you get dared every week. But I don't look at it as a dare thing or a disrespectful thing. I think that's what they wanted to do."

In the process, Leftwich helped the Jaguars take a big step toward their future by clearing an even larger obstacle from their past.

The Titans (2-8) had dominated this series between the former AFC Central and now AFC South foes, winning six of seven, and 11 of the past 14. They ruined the Jaguars' best season in 1999 a step short of the Super Bowl.

"I think things have turned now," Jaguars receiver Jimmy Smith said.

Only three Jaguars are left from that 1999 team, and they are busy concentrating on their current opportunity. Fred Taylor pointed out he was 30 minutes from the Super Bowl and hadn't been back to the playoffs since.

"If I continued to hold onto that, it probably would've messed up what I'm trying to do now. It's a new team," Taylor said.

This one wasn't as close as the final score, thanks to Leftwich. He shook off a very slow start and helped the Jaguars (7-3) win for the second time in three games in this rivalry -- both in Tennessee.

The Titans left their rookie cornerbacks in man coverage, and Jacksonville coach Jack Del Rio credited Leftwich with taking advantage of that.

"Very smart with the ball all day, making good decisions and leading our offense," Del Rio said.

Now, Jacksonville -- which must play its next two games on the road, too -- is off to its best start since the 1999 season.

Tennessee had one last-gasp attempt after Steve McNair tossed an 8-yard TD pass to Roydell Williams with 10 seconds left. Typical of this season for the Titans, however, Craig Hentrich's onside kick attempt went out of bounds.

"We had no excuses whatsoever," Titans coach Jeff Fisher said. "The bottom line is we were not good enough to win the ballgame."

Leftwich connected on only one of his first 10 passes, and his only completion was a deflection to the left guard. The Jags went three-and-out on their first five possessions.

The Titans sacked Leftwich twice and hit him repeatedly. He even had to leave the game for a play early in the fourth quarter. He returned and connected with Matt Jones two plays later on an 18-yard TD pass that gave Jacksonville its first lead at 28-21. "Byron made plays," Fisher said. "We put him on his back, and he put the ball up and Matt made the play and we didn't."

Leftwich finished 22-for-38 for 258 yards with TD passes to Kyle Brady and Ernest Wilford.

Jacksonville sacked McNair three times and intercepted him once in handing Tennessee its fifth consecutive loss.

The Titans last led 21-14 after Kyle Vanden Bosch sacked Leftwich and knocked the ball out of his hand. Antwan Odom picked it up and ran 27 yards for the go-ahead touchdown with 7:08 left in the third.

Leftwich needed only three minutes before tying the score again on an 18-yard TD pass to Wilford, who easily beat the shorter Reynaldo Hill in the right corner for the ball.

Taylor started for Jacksonville after being listed as doubtful all week with a badly bruised right ankle that kept him out of a victory against Baltimore last week. He didn't help -- the Jags had minus-2 yards rushing in the first half. He bruised his right thigh on the fumble and didn't play again, finishing with six attempts for minus-8 yards.

Adam "Pacman" Jones, the Titans' top draft pick, had a messy game for Tennessee. He set up the go-ahead touchdown right before halftime with an 85-yard kickoff return. But with the Titans trailing 28-21 with 6 minutes left, Jones failed to catch a Chris Hanson punt, which took a big bounce and went 74 yards.

With the ball at their 1, the Titans went three-and-out.

McNair did toss the 150th TD pass of his career -- a 15-yarder to Chris Brown. The running back also scored on a 1-yard run right before halftime.

GAME NOTES:

  • Smith's 24-yard reception in the third quarter gave him 827 for his career and moved him into eighth all-time on the NFL receiving list.
    • Jacksonville scored 30 or more points for a second successive game after going 58 games without topping that mark.
    • Brown's TD catch was the first of his career.
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