NFL

Defense, special teams let Jaguars down in opener

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP)

The highlight of Blaine Gabbert's career turned into an afterthought in Jacksonville's season opener.

Gabbert threw a perfectly placed, 39-yard touchdown pass to Cecil Shorts with 20 seconds remaining in regulation at Minnesota, a play that looked like it would be Gabbert's first game winner in two seasons.

But special teams and defense let the Jaguars down, resulting in a 26-23 loss in overtime to the Vikings on Sunday.

A day later, the Jaguars (0-1) were still reeling.

''Those last two minutes were about as emotional highs and lows you can get in a game,'' coach Mike Mularkey said Monday. ''I just told them we need to get over this one like we need to get over wins. We need to get over losses and move onto the next one as quickly as we can and not let this disappointment affect next week's game.''

The Jaguars host AFC South rival Houston (1-0) on Sunday.

Bouncing back could be difficult. After all, the loss to the Vikings was about as gut-wrenching as anyone in Jacksonville's locker room has endured.

The Jaguars took a 23-20 lead on Gabbert's late TD pass, which capped a 76-yard drive in less than a minute. Players hugged and high-fived on the sideline - which turned out to be a premature celebration.

The Vikings needed just four plays to lift a stunned crowd. It started when Josh Scobee failed to get his kickoff in the end zone, which allowed Minnesota to start the game-tying drive on its 31-yard line.

Nonetheless, with just 14 seconds left, all Jacksonville's defense needed was a stop. It didn't happen.

''This Is probably the worst I've felt in my career,'' defensive tackle Terrance Knighton said. ''After that touchdown to Cecil, I'm thinking, `That's what happens when good teams work hard.' I don't know what happened in the last 14 seconds.''

The Jaguars ranked sixth in the NFL in total defense in 2011.

But they hardly looked the same to open 2012, giving up 389 yards and six scores in Minnesota's final eight possessions.

''Defensively, we had that game in our hands and let it slip away,'' linebacker Paul Posluszny said. ''If we want to be a great defense, that has got to be the knockout punch right there.''

The Jaguars played without two defensive starters, missing linebacker Daryl Smith and cornerback Derek Cox.

It's unclear whether either will return against the Texans.

Jacksonville might have issues on the other side of the ball now, too.

Running back Rashad Jennings (knee) and right tackle Cam Bradfield (ankle) were having tests to determine how long they will be sidelined. Mularkey said both could be out ''a couple of weeks.''

Guards Uche Nwaneri and Eben Britton also are dealing with ankle injuries.

There were some positives in the opener.

Gabbert completed 23 of 39 passes for a career-high 260 yards, with two touchdowns and no interceptions. He botched a snap and overthrew Justin Blackmon in the end zone, but was otherwise solid. Shorts caught four passes for 74 yards, Laurent Robinson finished with five receptions for 66 yards, and tight end Marcedes Lewis caught a TD pass for the first time in more than a year.

But the defense folded, there were several dropped passes, a few fumbles, a blocked extra point and one huge feeling of disappointment when it ended.

''Obviously, the emotions of the game can affect you,'' Mularkey said. ''In 20 seconds, it can be different. ... To be a good, consistent football team, we have to learn how to win close games like that. Close games on the road. We have to have plays made.

''We shouldn't have to wait until the 20th second to make the plays. We've got to make plays throughout the game. I think if we can do that it's a good learning process.''

Tagged: Vikings, Jaguars, Blaine Gabbert, Cecil Shorts III

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