Before each game this season, win or lose — check that, lose or lose — Will Blackmon had gone up to Maurice Jones-Drew and told him the same thing:
“I’m playing for you.”
The point was these two veterans, on a team that had lost its first eight games this year, still saw a reason to strap it up each week. For this Jacksonville Jaguars team, which hadn’t even kept the final margin within one score of any loss this year, getting that first win for one another was that reason.
They got it Sunday, thanks in large part to Blackmon’s strip-sack of Tennessee Titans quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick and 21-yard touchdown return with 2:32 to play.
Just like that, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are the last remaining team without a win this year.
“We’re a team and I play for them, so when I scored I couldn’t wait to turn around and see my teammates,” Blackmon told FOX Sports by phone. “I turned around and saw everybody running onto the field, and that was cool.”
The Jaguars’ win will not affect the AFC playoff picture. It will not result in their playing into January. If anything, it’ll hurt their chances at having a better draft pick in May.
But Blackmon’s play lifted a previously winless team for one day, brought a smile to coach Gus Bradley’s face and a game ball into his hands and proved there are still reasons to play hard, even when the playoffs are out of reach a few weeks before Thanksgiving.
For Bradley, who has somehow kept a positive attitude, it was about improving. He said he congratulated his players not on the victory, but on just “getting better.”
“The win-loss column is what it is, but the cool thing is our spirit in the locker room was cool,” Blackmon said. “We knew once we put it together, it was gonna happen for us. We just believed that. The bye week was cool for each of us to go home and get a break and come back with a new attitude, and that’s what happened. We had a really, really, really good mood at practice.”
There were bigger games and bigger stories in the NFL this weekend. Off the field, it was the Jonathan Martin-Richie Incognito story. On the field, the Detroit Lions’ win over the Chicago Bears was certainly a more impactful result than Jacksonville knocking off Tennessee. But for one week, the Jaguars got some publicity and got to feel good about themselves.
Blackmon’s play, which turned a two-point lead into a nine-point advantage — the Titans scored a touchdown to pull within two points again — was also a terrific story from a personal standpoint.
A fourth-round pick of the Green Bay Packers in 2006, Blackmon was out of the league last year following a brief stint with the 2011 Super Bowl champion New York Giants. Having undergone two ACL surgeries, Blackmon decided to keep his NFL career alive and signed with the Seattle Seahawks last February. He was with the team until late in training camp. Blackmon then took a route a handful of Seahawks players took by joining former Seattle defensive coordinator Bradley in Jacksonville.
Bradley will like what he sees when he watches film of Blackmon’s big play. Earlier, Blackmon showed blitz too soon and was easily blocked by Titans right tackle Mike Otto. This time around, Blackmon disguised it by waiting for the snap and then darting from the slot position past Otto.
From NFL outcast to starter, Blackmon felt the joy of making a game-changing play Sunday. Don’t try telling him Sunday’s victory didn’t mean a lot.
“It’s just cool to once again be healthy and playing football. I just love playing football,” he said. “I was just happy because I know, in the fourth quarter, big-time players step up. I had an opportunity against the Rams to make a play, and I got beat for a touchdown and that stuck with me a little bit. When that happened, I was trying to make a play, where this time, I just played my technique and did what I was supposed to do and the plays would come.”
And, finally, so did a victory.
Tavon Austin has some fun
I covered the St. Louis Rams’ game against the Seahawks late last month, and one of the images that struck me that night was Tavon Austin dancing and bopping during warm-ups. It’s a common sight during NFL pregames, but Austin seemed a lot looser than a rookie who hadn’t lived up to his potential.
I asked around and was told Austin had been one of the more positive guys on that side of the ball to that point. He was given every chance to bash offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer in private, and I’m told he didn’t take the bait — either because he still believed Schottenheimer would find a way to use him or because he didn’t want to sound like a bitter young player.
Austin was anything but bitter on Sunday after posting 287 yards and three touchdowns on plays from scrimmage and punt returns in a 38-8 victory over the Indianapolis Colts. He became the first player in NFL history with a 95-plus-yard punt-return touchdown and a 55-plus-yard receiving touchdown in the same game. (He actually had two 55-plus-yard receiving touchdowns.)
Instead of getting discouraged early in the season, Austin repeatedly told himself to enjoy the process. He really enjoyed Sunday’s game.
“You have to keep focus and remember what got you here. And, for me, that was having fun, making plays and loving the game,” Austin told FOX Sports by phone before boarding the flight out of Indianapolis. “That’s how I tried to approach it every time, and I’m just glad it turned out good for me.”
Austin had 207 receiving yards and two touchdowns coming into the weekend. Before the loss to the Titans the week before, Schottenheimer predicted, “You’ll see him make some plays starting this weekend.”
OK, so he was off by seven days.
“Coach (Ray) Sherman, my position coach, he always told me that’s how this game goes, it happens in bunches,” Austin said. “I’m just glad I had the opportunity to make the plays for us and contribute to a win. I’ve been working hard. I knew my time was going to come eventually, but you just gotta be patient with this game and understand it happens.”
Austin added: “The game started to slow down, but the NFL is still a fast league. I had a couple of creases, and I hit them and was fortunate enough to make plays.”
Peyton Manning isn’t missing the Chiefs game
Now, whether he’s affected greatly by his ankle is a different story. Hold your breath, Broncos fans.
Five quick takes
1.) Marc Trestman tried to pin his decision to leave Jay Cutler in Sunday’s game on the fact he said Cutler never complained about his groin injury and that his ankle was ailing him. Even if that’s the case — and I doubt the coaching staff didn’t know Cutler was hurting — the fact FOX cameras caught Cutler grabbing his groin area, often while in the act of throwing, reveals trainers and coaches should’ve seen he was having issues with the injury that was initially supposed to sideline him through this past weekend and longer. Cutler had trouble stepping into throws, and that was evident to anyone watching.
Giving Josh McCown one drive to pull off a comeback, which he nearly accomplished, was unfair to McCown, the defense and the team as a whole. McCown should have been put into the game at halftime. Instead, Cutler limped his way through the next six drives. And credit to him for his toughness, as he was getting whacked on a regular basis by a relentless Detroit Lions defense. Any questions about Cutler’s toughness left over from the 2010 NFC Championship Game should be stomped by now, right?
Still, Trestman has to protect his quarterback and his team. And while it’s easy to point to the decision to leave Cutler in the game Sunday, don’t forget the Bears made the decision early in the week, gave Cutler all of the reps and basically locked themselves into keeping him in the game as long as possible.
2.) Time to give Carolina Panthers defensive coordinator Sean McDermott his due. This was a guy who was run out of the Philadelphia Eagles organization after a short, unsuccessful stint as the team’s coordinator from 2009-10. McDermott was heralded as a brilliant, young coach who would implement everything he learned from the late Jim Johnson. Soon thereafter, he was seen as anything but. Now, McDermott is making good on his promise with the Panthers, who held the San Francisco 49ers to nine points and has surrendered 15 or fewer points in seven of their nine games.
Current Panthers GM Dave Gettleman deserves credit, as does former GM Marty Hurney, but McDermott, head coach Ron Rivera and the rest of the defensive staff are drawing up some gorgeous schemes to keep opposing offenses to an NFL-low seven passing touchdowns and only two rushing TDs.
3.) There’s already some chatter in the media the Atlanta Falcons could wind up firing head coach Mike Smith after the season. Checking the pulse of those in the know, that seems like a long shot at this point. The bigger issue with the Falcons is their aging personnel. Tony Gonzalez will retire, but the team will have to make decisions about players such as Roddy White (32), Steven Jackson (30), Asante Samuel (32) and Osi Umenyiora (31). Rookie corners Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford have given hope for the future, but there’s work to be done to rebuild both lines and add some more weapons for Matt Ryan in a division where the New Orleans Saints will be the Saints for at least a few more years and the Carolina Panthers suddenly seem on the uptick.
4.) The Colts had 18 rushing yards Sunday. That’s the third-fewest in franchise history. Now, the worst part: Andrew Luck had 17 of those yards. Obviously, Trent Richardson was banged up coming into the game. The biggest issue for the Colts is not who’s carrying the ball but who’s blocking. Indy has had fewer than 100 rushing yards in three of its past four games. That’s not what GM Ryan Grigson had in mind when he acquired Richardson in a trade that’s yet to pay off.
Even worse, the Rams had constant pressure on Luck while he was trying to throw and sacked him three times. Grigson, a former lineman, has to do work on his offensive line beyond this season. It’s not too early to speculate that Jonathan Martin, Luck’s college teammate at Stanford, could be a good fit for Indy if he’s able to resume his NFL career after getting through this mess with Incognito.
5.) This offseason will be a contract bonanza for the 2011 draft class that includes Cam Newton, Patrick Peterson, J.J. Watt, Richard Sherman, Colin Kaepernick and more. Under the current collective-bargaining agreement, which was ratified during those players’ rookie seasons, players can’t sign extensions until they’ve completed their third season. (Under the previous CBA, they had to wait only two years.)
Multiple sources involved in negotiations said teams have begun talking to those players. Some aren’t even sure they’re allowed to talk at this point but have done so, anyway. Though nothing can be finalized for five more months, the early talks are aimed to give both sides a feel for what the final numbers will be while also easing the players’ anxiety over waiting a year longer than the previous generations to get their lucrative second deals.
Ten even quicker takes
• Diving punters: Is it about time for a hockey-like rule penalizing punters who try to draw a roughing-the-kicker call when no contact existed? The Lions’ Sam Martin took a ridiculous flop late in Sunday’s game and the Panthers’ Brad Nortman exaggerated his fall after getting hit by his own teammate.
• Golden Tate, Andre Johnson and Calvin Johnson: Three terrific toe-tapping touchdowns from those three guys. That’s the order I’d score them – Tate’s one-hander, Andre’s backward-falling grab off a deflection and Calvin’s grab over his head while sliding out of bounds.
• Nick Foles: His three touchdown passes Sunday tied Y.A. Tittle for the most in the game following a seven-touchdown performance. The other five players to throw seven touchdowns in a game (Peyton Manning, George Blanda, Joe Kapp, Sid Luckman and Adrian Burk) threw a combined five touchdowns in their next games.
• Sean Lee: That appeared to be a bad hamstring injury for the Dallas Cowboys linebacker, who can’t catch a break injury-wise.
• Jake Locker: Speaking of a guy who can’t catch an injury break, the Titans fear he’s lost for the season with a Lisfranc injury, as Jim Wyatt of The Tennesseean first reported. This was to be a statement season for Locker. Unfortunately for him, he didn’t get a chance to make it.
• Giants pass rush: Four sacks in each of the past two games after recording a total of six over their first seven games. Eli Manning’s struggles will be the talk there, but the re-emergence of the pass rush is a great sign.
• Rams pass rush: The pressure that front is generating right now is ridiculous. Robert Quinn, a member of that 2011 draft class looking to get paid (see above), has added zeroes with every one of his 12 sacks this year.
• NFC East: Victor Cruz, said it’s a race to nine wins. That would probably be a runaway, actually. You have to think, at this point, 8-8 gets it done, depending on tiebreakers.
• Bears’ two-point conversion: A draw play up the gut into the Lions’ defensive tackles after McCown led the team to a touchdown? Not a good call. And that’s not a second guess. It was a first guess. I promise.
• Miami Dolphins: Don’t assume their anger while addressing reporters last week means they’re going to hammer the Buccaneers on Monday night. Tampa got some good vibes going last week against the Seahawks and will want to follow the Jags’ lead. Expect a good showing from the Bucs.