AFC South: 2013 Week 5 JAC at STL

ST. LOUIS -- Blaine Gabbert will be the Jacksonville Jaguars' starting quarterback next Sunday against Denver -- provided his left hamstring injury isn’t severe enough to put him on the bench.

Coach Gus Bradley didn’t hesitate a bit when asked that question after the Jaguars’ 34-20 loss to the St. Louis Rams. Gabbert is his quarterback.

Gabbert’s performance against the Rams produced some compelling reasons why he shouldn’t -- and should -- be.

First, the bad:

He air-mailed a pass 6 feet over Justin Blackmon’s head that was intercepted and returned for a touchdown.

He fumbled twice while trying to scramble around in the pocket.

He threw an end-zone interception on fourth down.

And he missed a wide open Cecil Shorts on the sideline on a scramble, when he had enough room to run for a first down and time to set his feet and make a good throw.

Now, the good:

He threw a perfect pass to Shorts along the right sideline for a 28-yard gain from the Jaguars’ 1-yard line.

He also converted a third-and-5 with a nifty pass to Shorts a millisecond before Rams defensive end Robert Quinn hit him in the legs.

He answered the interception return for a touchdown by guiding the team on a seven-play, 50-yard drive that culminated with Josh Scobee’s 48-yard field goal to give the Jaguars a 10-7 lead.

But that’s quintessential Gabbert. Inconsistent, with flashes of the kind of talent that would warrant being the No. 10 overall selection in the 2011 draft.

"We just need the consistency of making good decisions," Bradley said. "We just have to continue to train. The challenge is for our guys to play with some freedom. We have to find that balance, where we are making good decisions, but yet we have freedom to make plays."

The problem is that Bradley and GM Dave Caldwell haven’t been able to get a full evaluation on Gabbert this season because he has been injured and playing without full firepower. He had a sprained ankle and fractured thumb in the preseason, then suffered a cut on his hand that required stitches and kept him out of two games. Now he’s dealing with a hamstring strain that put him on the bench in the third quarter against the Rams.

He hadn’t had Just Blackmon, his best receiver, until Sunday, and tight end Marcedes Lewis has been on the field for just two plays this season because of a calf injury. The Jaguars are now on their third left tackle after the trade of Eugene Monroe and the season-ending ankle injury to Luke Joeckel.

The running game has been no help, either, averaging just 49.0 yards per game going into Sunday’s game -- although the Jaguars did run for a season-high 96 yards against the Rams.

"Things haven’t gone the way we wanted to the first couple weeks of the season for this team and with some individuals on it, but it’s just something that we’ve got to fight through," Gabbert said. "We’ve got to fight through some adversity, and we’ll get better in the long run."

That’s what he’s been saying all season, but at some point you have to rise above adversity and just start making plays. There have been opportunities for big plays in every game he’s played this season, and he has failed to make the throws.

He’s making the same mistakes this season he made as a rookie. Any strides he made with his pocket presence evaporated on Sunday when he hopped around and bolted out early. Not once or twice, but several times.

Nobody is asking Gabbert to be Peyton Manning or Tom Brady or Drew Brees. The Jaguars just want him to not be Mark Sanchez, and that’s not too much to demand in his third season.

Barring injury, Gabbert will start against the Broncos, but his time to prove that he deserves to have that job at the end of this season and beyond is running out.

Blackmon's return impacts offense

October, 6, 2013
ST. LOUIS -- Justin Blackmon's presence on the field for the first time this season was supposed to make an impact on the Jacksonville Jaguars' offense on Sunday.

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.
ST. LOUIS -- Observed in the locker room after the Jacksonville Jaguars' 34-20 loss to the St. Louis Rams.

Feeling bad: Running back Maurice Jones-Drew said he felt terrible about left tackle Luke Joeckel's injury because he was one of the players that ended up rolling on Joeckel's right leg. "It's always tough to see a guy that you count on go out. It's tough when you're the guy who probably hurt him, too, which was me," he said. "You never want to run up anyone's back like that."

Run down: The Rams entered Sunday ranked last in the NFL in rushing yards per game (47.3) but they put up a season-high 143 yards. "We felt like we were well-prepared and we did a solid job for the most part," Jaguars linebacker Paul Posluszny said. "Then we let up a couple runs, missed a couple tackles, let a guy fall forward after hitting him ... the next thing you know they are over 100 yards."

Minus-3: The Jaguars elected to take a field goal off the board in the third quarter when St. Louis cornerback Janoris Jenkins lined up offside. Blaine Gabbert's fouth-down pass in the end zone was intercepted. Jaguars coach Gus Bradley said he made the decision because they trailed by 14 points and needed some momentum.

ST. LOUIS -- A few thoughts on the Jacksonville Jaguars' 34-20 loss to the St. Louis Rams:

What it means: The Jaguars lost their fifth game of the season but there was progress. The team scored a season-high 20 points, it was a seven-point game at one point in the fourth quarter and the running game finally got moving (96 yards, including 70 by Maurice Jones-Drew). But the kinds of mistakes the Jaguars have made all season resurfaced and resulted in the franchise’s 10th consecutive loss dating back to last season. Blaine Gabbert air-mailed a pass over Justin Blackmon's head that was intercepted and returned 82 yards for a touchdown. LaRoy Reynolds was penalized for an illegal block above the waist that nullified Ace Sanders' 88-yard punt return for a touchdown. The Jaguars did score on that possession, but it is an example of how penalties have hurt this team all season. Clay Harbor also fumbled and the Rams turned that into a touchdown, too. Still, the offense ended up with a season-high 363 yards.

Gabbert hurt again: Gabbert was forced to leave the game in the second half after injuring his left hamstring. He had completed nine of 19 passes for 181 yards and one touchdown but threw two interceptions. It was a typical Gabbert performance: He threw several passes that flashed his potential but he also had plays where he panicked in the pocket and took off running and overthrew open receivers. He was replaced by Chad Henne, who led the Jaguars to one touchdown.

Stock watch: The Jaguars’ offensive line is essentially down two starters from the unit that opened the season. The team traded starting left tackle Eugene Monroe to Baltimore early in the week and Luke Joeckel, the No. 2 overall draft pick last April, moved from right tackle to left tackle but injured his ankle in the first quarter and did not return. Cameron Bradfield, who started 12 games at right tackle last season, stepped in for Joeckel.

Now you see him, now you don’t: Blackmon returned from a four-game suspension and made an immediate impact on the offense, catching five passes for 136 yards and a touchdown. The touchdown came on a pass over the middle and he out-ran the secondary for 67 yards. But Blackmon had only two more catches.

What’s next: The Jaguars play at Denver on Sunday.