Now, Leftwich is out with a knee injury and the Jaguars no longer sit alone atop the division as they stagger into a matchup with the Detroit Lions.
Leftwich will not need surgery on his sprained left knee, but remains on crutches with a brace on the joint and is expected to miss two games.
In his second season in the NFL, Leftwich has completed 64.8 percent of his passes for 1,891 yards and nine touchdowns. He sprained the lateral collateral ligament in his left knee in a 20-6 loss to the Houston Texans on Oct. 31. He sat out two plays but returned to finish the game for Jacksonville, which has slipped into a tie for first with the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC South.
Backup quarterback David Garrard will make his second career start Sunday.
Garrard, much more mobile than Leftwich, has played in seven games over three seasons. In the 2002 season finale at Indianapolis—his only previous start—Garrard completed 13 of 26 passes for 135 yards, was sacked three times and fumbled once as the Jaguars lost 20-13.
“We expect him to run the offense and play well enough to help us win,” Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio said of Garrard. “I think it’s important that the guys around him step up and assume more responsibility.”
The Jaguars will need more production out of running back Fred Taylor, who sat out much of the second half against the Texans with a hip pointer after straining a quadriceps muscle the week before against Indianapolis.
Taylor expects to play against the Lions, but it remains to be seen whether he can pick up the slack on offense with Leftwich on the sidelines. Taylor has 510 yards rushing, including just one 100-yard game, 234 yards receiving and two touchdowns this season.
Taylor had similar numbers at this point last year—583 yards rushing, 291 yards receiving and three TDs—but came on strong and finished with a career-high 1,942 total yards.
Steve Mariucci is hoping the Lions can get their running game going. They have the worst rushing offense in the NFL.
“It comes down to coaching, because we are going to have to find a way to run the ball,” Mariucci said. “We have to be able to do that.”
Mariucci has always been a firm believer in rotating his runners, and that was evident again Sunday when Kevin Jones led the team with 12 carries. Shawn Bryson had six and Artose Pinner carried twice.
“We’re still trying to determine who our guy is going to be and then develop him,” Mariucci said. “We’ve got two young guys in Kevin and Artose, and we need to come to grips with who we want to be the featured back.”
Mariucci has also expressed some concerns with Detroit’s passing attack. Harrington threw for 269 yards against the Redskins, but most of the damage came during the two-minute drill at the end of each half.
Lions rookie wide receiver Roy Williams got off to a strong start, but has slowed down significantly. He had just three receptions for 33 yards for Detroit on Sunday, but did add to his long list of spectacular plays with a leaping one-handed catch. Williams has just 10 catches for 118 yards and a touchdown in the team’s last four games.
The Lions return to the road where they have been strong this season, going 3-1 after losing an NFL-record 24 straight away from home.