In his first start of the 2013 season for the Jacksonville Jaguars, wide receiver Justin Blackmon had 136 yards and one touchdown.
How about immediately?
Blackmon’s first touch was a 67-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown that gave the Jaguars a 7-0 first-quarter lead against St. Louis, which wasn’t a bad debut for a guy who was suspended for the first four games because he violated the NFL’s substance abuse program.
"It just popped open," Blackmon said. "Blaine [Gabbert] made a call and we reacted. The defense was flustered. We converted third down [the play before] and they were running off the field. We hurried up and just snapped the ball."
The Jaguars desperately needed that kind of spark on offense, and it was evident how much his presence affected the team in the first quarter. They racked up 156 yards (they had just 178 total against Kansas City and 205 last week against Indianapolis), had three plays of 20 or more yards, and scored 10 points.
But now the challenge is sustaining that impact, because that didn’t happen against the Rams. Blackmon caught three passes for 90 yards in the quarter, but then caught only two more passes for 46 yards the rest of the game.
"We tried to get him the ball," Gabbert said. "You make plays, they do key on you but it’s the quarterback’s job to stretch the field and get him the ball."
Gabbert’s right. They did try. The pass that safety Matt Giordano intercepted and returned 82 yards for a touchdown was thrown toward Blackmon -- except it was about 6 feet over his head. But Blackmon was targeted just once in the second quarter when the game was tied 10-10 and once early in the third quarter. But by the time Blackmon got his fourth catch on a 39-yard pass from Chad Henne late in the third quarter, the Jaguars were already behind 24-10.
Blackmon’s presence on the field eased the coverage on Cecil Shorts, who had caught 26 passes in the first four games, but had struggled to make plays early in games when the coverages were tighter and he faced some double teams. He had more success against looser coverages in the second halves, which was when the games were well out of reach.
The Jaguars were also able to use their anticipated lineup at receiver for the first time this season. Blackmon and Shorts, who had five catches for 74 yards and his first touchdown reception of the season, were on the outside and rookie Ace Sanders was in the slot.
"It really eliminated them double-teaming our best guy, which is Cecil, so [Blackmon’s presence] kind of allowed us to spread it out a little bit and get other guys the football," Henne said.