JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- It's not easy being this bad, although at times, the San Diego Chargers certainly made it look that way.
Byron Leftwich threw like a veteran and returning receiver Jimmy Smith played as though he hadn't missed a day, as the Jacksonville Jaguars defeated the Chargers and their butter-soft defense 27-21 on Sunday in The Game of the Weak -- a meeting of two teams who entered 0-4.
"I'm relieved, I guess," said Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio, who got his first career victory. "More relief than joy, really."
Smith, returning from a four-game suspension for violating the league's substance-abuse policy, caught eight passes for 137 yards, including a highlight-reel one-hander for 36 yards.
"I was very grateful to go out there and do whatever I could to help the team," Smith said.
Leftwich threw for 336 yards and two scores in his second career start, including a 60-yard touchdown on a screen pass to Fred Taylor that gave the Jaguars a 27-14 lead late.
Del Rio, who told his team to "keep chopping wood" during its monthlong losing streak, watched his team gain a season-high 436 yards, as the Jaguars sunk the Chargers even deeper into despair.
Heading into their bye week, the Chargers, along with the 0-4 Jets, have an early lead in the race for the first pick of next year's draft. Not even David Boston's 14-catch, 181-yard game could save San Diego.
"The score doesn't even matter," coach Marty Schottenheimer said, explaining his emphasis on toughening the team's attitude to get wins. "I talked all week -- don't even bother looking at the scoreboard."
They probably don't want to look too hard at their defensive backfield, either. San Diego's young cornerbacks got torched.
Of course, even when he's been on the shelf, it's no travesty to get burned by Smith, the NFL's most prolific receiver over the last seven years. But when journeyman Matt Hatchette catches a wide-open 45-yard pass that makes Sammy Davis Jr., the first-round draft pick, look like Sammy Davis Jr., the Candyman, it's clear there's trouble.
"Any time you have Jimmy on your team, it's a respect thing," Leftwich said. "You saw it in the second half. They were putting two, three guys on him. That's when guys like Matt Hatchette and guys like Troy (Edwards) make big plays."
Hatchette's catch was the key to a 90-yard touchdown drive that resulted in Edwards' 18-yard score for a 17-7 Jacksonville lead late in the third.
San Diego pulled within 20-14 with 4 minutes left, but on third-and-7, Leftwich threw a pretty screen to Taylor, who used a great block from center Brad Meester to spring for the long score. San Diego got within six again with 20 seconds left, but the Jaguars recovered an onside kick to seal the game.
It was a sparkling debut for Smith, who looked like he hadn't missed any time, even though he spent the last six weeks in a rehab clinic.
"I went to him in the third quarter and told him I loved him," Taylor said. "He's been going through a tough time. I feel like we're good enough friends that I can say that to him."
The loss spoiled a two-touchdown highlight show from Boston, who himself returned from a one-game suspension for violating team rules -- the team's code for being overweight.
Drew Brees was 24-for-41 for 296 yards and three scores for San Diego.
Leftwich went 19-for-28 for a one-game passer rating of 132.4. The guy Leftwich replaced, Mark Brunell, was the third-string quarterback for the second straight week, out with an injured elbow that he insisted was perfectly fine.
Del Rio said he would announce next week's starting quarterback in a few days.
While the Jaguars' losing streak is over, the Chargers have a bye week to stew over theirs. This isn't what most folks expected from a team that was considered a playoff contender in many circles, but has yet to get it together.
Things were so bad that LaDainian Tomlinson, who entered ranked third in the league in rushing, finished with only 38 yards on 10 carries.
"We stand here at 0-5, that's the challenge we face," Schottenheimer said. "We're going to find a way to play 60 minutes of football with an attitude."
- Jaguars safety Donovin Darius got hit for two 15-yard penalties, one for a flagrant facemask, another for roughing the passer, which nullified an interception on San Diego's final scoring drive.
- Attendance was only 48,954 and the game was blacked out in Jacksonville. In fact, not a single market in Florida carried the game.
- Schottenheimer is 0-5 for the second time in three years. Two seasons ago, he started 0-5 with the Redskins, but finished 8-8, before getting fired and replaced by Steve Spurrier.
The Associated Press News Service
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