In 2003, the Jaguars were in full blown rebuilding mode. By 2002, the salary cap Devil had come to collect on all of those backloaded contracts that fueled the 1999 team. Franchise players like Keenan McCardell and Tony Boselli were no longer on the team. However, 2003 saw the full effect of that change. Tom Coughlin was fired in December 2002, and Jack Del Rio hired to replacement Coughlin in January. In addition, Marshall QB Byron Leftwich was drafted 7th overall to replace star QB Mark Brunell.
Fast forward to October 5th, 2003 and the team is a wreck. Star WR Jimmy Smith was suspended for four games because of drug use. Byron Leftwich had the longest holdout in team history and dug himself into a PR hole he never got out of while in Jacksonville. The terms "Blackout" and "Ticket Issues" were beginning to become a fact of life for the Jaguars. Fewer than 49,000 people attended this game.
Despite a close fought opening day loss to Carolina that showed promise, the Jaguars entered the game 0-4. In addition, the week prior, Mark Brunell was injured vs the Texans and replaced by Byron Leftwich. With all of this, in stepped the last team the Jags had never played, 0-4 San Diego. In what was dubbed "The Toilet Bowl", the loser was expected to hold the #1 pick in next year's upcoming draft.
In a game the Jaguars controlled from the start, Fred Taylor kicked off the scoring with a one yard touchdown run. However, in the 2nd quarter the Chargers struck fast with a 48 yard touchdown from Drew Brees to David Boston. The game went on a back and forth routine until Fred Taylor took a screen pass 60 yards to the house to give the Jaguars a 27-14 lead late in the 4th quarter.
This game marked the true end of the expansion era Jaguars and the beginning of the Del Rio era. Jimmy Smith was the last true star from the glory days remaining. Byron Leftwich was just beginning his "complex" relationship with the city of Jacksonville. And Mark Brunell would end up in a year of purgatory before going to the Redskins.
PS: The Gamethread will be up at 2pm