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Thunder on the Tundra

Jags' Leftwich Throws For Two Touchdowns In Win at Lambeau: Jaguars 28, Packers 25

By Leonard Shapiro
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 20, 2004; Page D09

GREEN BAY, Wis., Dec. 19 -- As a boy growing up in the District, Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Byron Leftwich always dreamed about playing a meaningful football game in December at Lambeau Field, the colder the better.

With temperatures dipping into the low single digits in the second half on Sunday, Leftwich survived several early wicked hits and threw two touchdown passes to wide receiver Jimmy Smith in the first half. Then he directed two more touchdown drives in the final 30 minutes, leading his team to a 28-25 upset over the Green Bay Packers before 70,437.

The Jaguars' Donovin Darius delivers a forearm to the head of the Packers' Robert Ferguson. Darius drew an unnecessary roughness penalty and was ejected. (Mike Roemer -- AP)

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The Jaguars (8-6) intercepted three Brett Favre passes after intermission and gave themselves a major leg up for a AFC wild-card spot in a game that was overshadowed by a scary hit to the head that sent Green Bay wide receiver Robert Ferguson to the hospital for neck and head X-rays.

There was some consolation for the Packers (8-6), who had clinched a playoff spot before the opening kickoff because of losses by Carolina, Chicago, Dallas and the New York Giants. The Packers also were relieved later in the evening by the news that Ferguson apparently was not seriously injured. Team officials said he had a sprained neck and would stay at Bellin Hospital in Green Bay overnight for observation and further evaluation. Ferguson had movement and sensation in all his extremities and was resting comfortably, according to Packers head trainer Pepper Burruss.

With his team trailing by 11 points with 4 minutes 41 seconds left in the game, Ferguson went high over the middle to catch a 31-yard pass, only to have Jacksonville safety Donovin Darius hit him with an extended forearm. The hit knocked Ferguson's helmet off, and though he held on to the ball, he rolled over on his back and did not get up.

Medical personnel worked on him for about 15 minutes before he was taken off the field on a stretcher and transported by ambulance to a local hospital. As he left the field, he gave a thumbs-up sign to the crowd, and the Packers said early Sunday evening that he had movement in all his extremities. Packers Coach Mike Sherman said in his postgame media conference that the news coming out of the hospital was more good than bad.

Darius was ejected from the game by referee Ed Hochuli and likely will face a significant fine from the NFL office later this week. The play drew a 15-yard penalty for unnecessary roughness, pushing the ball to the Jaguars 41. But four plays later, Favre's pass intended for Donald Driver was intercepted in the end zone by safety Deon Grant, who ripped the ball out of Driver's hands in back of the end zone.

"I knew I wasn't in position to get there and make the interception," Darius said. "I just wanted to disrupt the catch. There was nothing intentional to clothesline him or harm him. I always play within the rules, and I pray that he's okay. I'm sorry it turned out the way it happened, but you play this game at 100 miles an hour."

Darius said before he was ejected, he walked out on the field and spoke with Ferguson.

"I went up to him and said, 'I hope you're okay, and I'll pray for you,' " he said. "For me, it was just a natural reaction. When I saw I wasn't in position to make an interception, my natural tendency was to swing my arm in an upward motion. If I can come up and hit the ball, maybe I can knock it loose. He held onto the ball. But he understands there was nothing intentional. I have no need to play outside the rules."

The Jaguars were clearly the better team on a day when Favre was unable to convert several scoring opportunities. He threw one of his interceptions on first and goal at the Jaguars 3 and another from the Jacksonville 22. The Packers had five possessions inside the Jaguars 20 but could only convert one of them into a field goal.

Leftwich took at least a half dozen jarring hits in the first half after releasing the football and played most of the game with a bruised left hand. It didn't prevent him from throwing those two touchdown passes to Smith. For the game, he completed 9 of 20 attempts for 121 yards and no interceptions.

He also had plenty of help from running back Fred Taylor, who gained 165 yards on the ground in 22 attempts and scored a touchdown.

The Jaguars will finish the regular season with a home game next Sunday against Houston and a road game in Oakland on Jan. 2. If they win those two, they'll earn an AFC wild-card berth. The Packers will travel to Minnesota for a game Friday, and a victory there will give them the NFC North title.

"All I know is this win is just one step for us," Leftwich said. "We've still got to play, and if we don't win those, this means nothing. "

Losses in December on their home field are not supposed to happen to Favre and the Packers. The veteran quarterback came into the game with a career 38-1 record at Lambeau when the temperature was 34 or lower and likely will go down as the greatest cold-weather quarterback. But Leftwich, now 1-0 here, always will remember his first experience at Lambeau.

"It's just a dream to have the opportunity to go out there and compete against Brett Favre in this place," he said afterward, still shivering. "You look around the stadium and see all the names -- the Bart Starrs and the Ray Nitschkes, and it makes it even more special."

© 2004 The Washington Post Company