The decision by the Jacksonville Jaguars to start Blaine Gabbert for a second week in a row looked downright brilliant Saturday night because Gabbert was, well, downright brilliant. One week after the Jaguars came away empty on all four possessions led by him, Gabbert expertly guided the no-huddle offense against the New York Jets to 10 points during the opening quarter.
Before giving way to Chad Henne in the second quarter, Gabbert had 13 completions in 16 attempts for 165 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions. But that 16th pass could have been a costly one, because Gabbert banged the thumb on his throwing hand on a Jets defender while following through.
Initial reports indicated it was nothing worse than a sprain, although the last thing first-year coach Gus Bradley needs with two preseason games to go is either of his quarterbacks getting injured.
Here are five observations from the Jaguars’ 37-13 loss that wasn’t as lopsided as the score would suggest:
1. Already missing first-round draft pick Luke Joeckel and leading receiver Cecil Shorts III, the Jaguars found out shortly before kickoff that tight end Marcedes Lewis couldn’t go because of tightness in his calf. Despite all of that, the first-string offense turned in a performance which was the total opposite of what fans in Jacksonville witnessed against the Miami Dolphins.
Gabbert’s 35-yard completion to rookie wide receiver Ace Sanders got things rolling after the Jaguars had fallen behind 7-0, and the march was capped by a 5-yard pass to Allen Reisner, who opened in place of Lewis.
Anyone watching the broadcast might have noticed that Cameron Bradfield’s name was not mentioned even once. That alone speaks volumes about how well Bradfield, who started at right tackle in Joeckel’s absence, and the rest of the line protected Gabbert.
2. Both Maurice Jones-Drew and Justin Blackmon made impressive debuts. In his first game action since injuring his foot last October, Jones-Drew touched the ball on four consecutive plays (three runs and one catch) on the 80-yard opening drive. Blackmon caught three passes for 37 yards, and on the last of those, he left Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie in the dust as his yards after the catch were enough to pick up a first down.
While Jordan Todman was the first running back to take over for Jones-Drew, Denard Robinson ended up with more rushing attempts than Todman and Jones-Drew combined. The “offensive weapon” finished with 29 yards on 11 carries, including a fourth-down short-yardage conversion that helped set up a field goal that gave the Jaguars their first lead of the preseason at 13-10.
3. The defense was a tale of two quarters. After making Mark Sanchez and Bilal Powell look like All-Pros on the Jets’ first two drives, the Jaguars came to life during the second quarter, especially when the Jets reached the red zone.
Sanchez had all night to throw early on, but the pass rush eventually asserted itself with defensive end Jeremy Mincey recording a sack. And 11-year veteran Marcus Trufant strengthened his case for making the final roster with an interception in the end zone that killed a Jets drive and brought out the boo birds in earnest.
Trufant had a moment in the spotlight, but rookie safety Johnathan Cyprien had a debut to forget. The second-round pick from Florida International was flagged for illegal contact on an opening drive that ended with him falling down and leaving Jets tight end Jeff Cumberland wide open on a 23-yard scoring pass from Sanchez.
4. Cyprien was far from the only offender when it came to penalties. A week after Bradley bemoaned the seven flags which went against the Jaguars in their loss to the Dolphins, they were penalized eight times for 68 yards by halftime.
While Gabbert’s second scoring drive resulted in points, it was made longer than necessary (17 plays) because of holds by Blackmon and guard Will Rackley. And after the Jets got the ball back, defensive end Jason Babin and defensive tackle Sen’Derrick Marks were flagged for 5-yard calls on consecutive plays.
Those errors were relatively mild compared to the snap that sailed over the head of fourth-string quarterback Mike Kafka in the fourth quarter and was recovered by the Jets for their final touchdown.
5. Josh Scobee had field goals of 23 and 36 yards, while Bryan Anger’s only punt covered 43 yards. That was pretty much the extent of the highlights involving the special teams. The kickoff coverage left much to be desired early on as the Jets twice got good field position courtesy of returns by Clyde Gates. If Scobee isn’t going to be counted on for touchbacks, this is an area that will definitely need to improve.
Worst of all, rookie Tobias Palmer muffed a punt for the second week in a row. With Shorts out and Blackmon suspended for the first four games of the regular season, Bradley decided to let Sanders focus on being strictly a receiver. How long will that last? And how long will it be before Robinson finally gets to return a kickoff instead of taking a knee or watching the ball sail over his head?