Jaguars quarterback Byron Leftwich opened his conference call with Houston media Wednesday morning with the voice of a relaxed 24-year-old.
Reporter: "What's up man?"
Leftwich: "I'm up here lookin' at a little Saturday Night Live."
Now, certain things are expected or understood when it comes to second-year quarterbacks in professional football.
Being easy going enough to open a conference call watching Saturday Night Live *reruns is *not *necessarily *one of them. At the close of the interview, saxophone and trumpet music from the hit television show blared in the background.
A guy this relaxed and confident must be a different person on the field, right?
Sure. Leftwich is actually very different in a game.
He wears a helmet.
Four of the Jaguars five victories have come in the fourth quarter, including three game-winning drives in the final minute; you would think Leftwich is a little higher strung, but this guy is comfortable on the field.
"You can't look at Byron Leftwich as a young quarterback," Texans defensive tackle Seth Payne said. "I think you have to look at him as a veteran quarterback and play him that way.
"They did well last year with a rookie quarterback and I think everybody saw the potential that Leftwich had last year and I think the fact that he's starting to play well really hasn't surprised us."
So enter the Texans defense – the preverbal parent waiting to pound the broom stick on the ceiling to get the 24-year-old to turn down the television.
"I think aside from his physical talent – I believe he has quite a bit of that – I think his strongest suits are he is intelligent and he remains poised when the battle is strongest or toughest," Jaguars head coach Jack Del Rio said Wednesday. "He remains very poised and very confidant in what he's doing."
Without Leftwich's confidence it's unclear where the Jaguars would be, perhaps 2-5.
The 6-5, 240 pound Leftwich threw for 2,819 yards last season – the fourth highest by a rookie in league history. He has started this season with 1,664 yards and nine touchdowns.
Fans might remember him as a gunslinger at Marshall where he threw for 4,268 yards and 30 touchdowns his senior year and got plastered for weeks on Sportscenter when his offensive linemen carried his injured body down the field on yet another last-minute comeback.
Thus far he has thrived in the pro game.
But Houston will be ready Sunday, unlike last season when Leftwich engineered a 27-0 win over the Texans by throwing for a tidy 194 yards and no interceptions.
The Texans are hoping for a performance similar to his first game against them – a 24-20 Texan victory where Leftwich threw three picks and had a key fumble toward the end of the game.
"We're going to try and jump on them early, try to get them frustrated and get Leftwich worried about different things," Texans linebacker Jamie Sharper said. "That's easy to do when you're at home with your crowd and our crowd is real loud and we have some things for (Jacksonville). If we go out here and really try to frustrate them early and put them behind a couple touchdowns it will work in our favor."
The Jaguars do present some match up difficulties, including several running backs and tight ends that have proven themselves worthy of getting the ball.
Out of Leftwich's 152 completions this season, 51 have gone to fullbacks, running backs or tight ends for a total of 467 yards and three touchdowns. Last week against the Colts, 12 of 23 completions went to that personnel group for 127 of the quarterback's 300 yards.
"He looks like he's been throwing at this level for about five or 10 years," Texans defensive end Gary Walker said of Leftwich. "It helps to have guys like Fred Taylor and Jimmy Smith and Kyle Brady and that offensive line around you taking care of you too. He's got every reason in the world to be confidant back there."
The Texans have made a concentrated effort to pressure the quarterback more in
the past month. As a result, the team has won three of its last four games, including
picking off seven passes in a three-game period.
But that does not seem to phase the Jaguars quarterback.
"I think we have a confident team," Leftwich said, the television music pushed off into the background. "We have a bunch of veterans and young guys who believe in each other. We believe everyone is going to do their part and do their job every Sunday. It's not just me who is confident. It's a confidence that my teammates have in me that I have in my teammates. That's why we've been able to win football games."
A high-power offense could be effective in limiting Leftwich, by building a lead that would be impossible to comeback from.
However job one for the Texans defense appears to involve breaking up some confidence.
That would get the TV turned off.