JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — After one drive Saturday night, Chad Henne looked ready to re-open the open competition at quarterback that Jacksonville Jaguars coach Gus Bradley had declared closed for now earlier in the week.
But that terrific first impression gave way to reality as it became clear that Henne’s best shot at unseating Blaine Gabbert when the Jaguars start playing for keeps in two weeks would be a slower-than-expected healing of Gabbert’s hairline fracture to his right thumb.
A 12-play, 90-yard drive in the first quarter against the Philadelphia Eagles made it look as if Henne was about to upstage Michael Vick, much less cause fans to temporarily forget about Gabbert. Although he led the Jaguars on another time-consuming touchdown march to start the second half, that came with the second-string offense against the Eagles’ second-string defense. In between, he completed only two of seven passes for 9 yards with an interception that gave the Eagles great field position.
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Vick had his ups and downs as well. While he was able to scramble for 53 yards and throw for 164 more in the first half, the Jaguars got sacks from tackle Roy Miller and end Andre Branch along with an interception by rookie cornerback Dwayne Gratz.
Here are five observations from the 31-24 loss that dropped the Jaguars’ preseason record to 0-3:
1. Whoever is the quarterback for the Jaguars for the first four weeks of the regular season will miss wide receiver Justin Blackmon something fierce. The first-round draft pick of a year ago capped the opening drive by hauling in a 17-yard pass from Henne, but his best play came earlier when he made an adjustment along the right sideline on a reception which covered 21 yards.
Unfortunately for the Jaguars, Blackmon won’t be able to practice until the week before their Oct. 6 game at St. Louis because of a suspension handed down by the NFL.
Cecil Shorts made a nice sliding catch on Henne’s first throw of the game, but that was the extent of his involvement in his first game after missing almost two weeks with a strained calf. The absence of tight end Marcedes Lewis for a second game in a row gave Brett Brackett (four catches for 24 yards) and Allen Reisner a chance to make a case for sticking around.
2. Luke Joeckel wasn’t expected to see more than a quarter’s worth of action after being sidelined for the better part of two weeks with a hip flexor injury. Instead, the first-round pick out of Texas A&M was on the field for 28 plays in all. It wasn’t until just before the two-minute warning that Bradley replaced Joeckel with Cameron Bradfield.
Although Henne got sacked three times before halftime and was collared by Eagles defensive end Fletcher Cox on an ill-advised scramble attempt, Joeckel was not at fault on any of those plays. The offensive line got a scare on the opening play, when left guard Will Rackley had to be helped off the field favoring his left leg. Bradley said X-rays were negative, although an MRI is scheduled for Sunday on Rackley’s ankle.
3. With one run in the second quarter, Jordan Todman might have cemented a spot on the roster as the backup to Maurice Jones-Drew. Todman, a sixth-round pick out of Connecticut in 2011 by the San Diego Chargers who spent most of last season on the practice squad of the Minnesota Vikings, flashed his cutback ability and speed on a 63-yard touchdown that gave the Jaguars a 17-10 lead. The score came one play after Gratz’s second interception in three games, with pressure from tackle Sen’Derrick Marks forcing Vick to throw off balance.
Jones-Drew got plenty of work on the first two drives and then got the rest of the game off. He finished with 28 yards on seven carries and again showed no traces of the foot injury that made 2012 such a forgettable year for him and the Jaguars.
4. Matt Scott, not Mike Kafka, was summoned to relieve Henne in the third quarter. Bradley had said Thursday that Kafka, who played in four games for the Eagles two years ago, would likely be first off the bench. Scott’s night began shaky through no fault of his own when Blackmon dropped a pass over the middle, but the undrafted free agent out of Arizona completed six of his next 10 attempts for 52 yards.
Kafka came in with 2:12 to go after Nick Foles had guided the Eagles on a 99-yard go-ahead drive.
Chances are both he and Scott will survive the first round of mandatory cuts Tuesday and get a longer look Thursday night at Atlanta. Bradley said the Jaguars will be down to the 75-man limit by the time they take the field for practice Monday morning.
5. Denard Robinson finally got to return a kickoff, taking the ball four yards deep in the end zone and bringing it out to the 21 early in the second quarter. And there was not a sighting of Tobias Palmer whenever the Jaguars forced the Eagles to punt. Then again, the Eagles only had to punt twice all game.
Rookie Johnathan Cyprien, who started at strong safety for the second week in a row, made a solid open-field tackle of Eagles kickoff returner Damaris Johnson. But later in the quarter, Johnson had a 61-yard runback of a kickoff and a 37-yard return of a punt.