JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- After a news-filled week with change, the Jaguars took the field for "Monday Night Football" and promptly proved talent trumps everything.
Depleted at cornerback and ineffective rushing quarterback Philip Rivers, Jacksonville allowed the Chargers' quarterback to find big plays all night. He missed on only 6 of 28 passes and threw for 294 yards and three touchdowns in a 38-14 win that ended San Diego's six-game losing streak and snapped the Jaguars’ hopes that a new coach could quickly change their course.
All the promise the Jaguars brought into the first game under interim coach Mel Tucker with a national audience watching flamed out Monday night at EverBank Field.
Tucker preached to his team that just because it didn’t see immediate results didn’t mean the changes they’d adopted weren’t the right ones, and asked them to rededicate and recommit.
With four games left, they may have the right roster character to do so, but the improvements and dividends are likely to be small.
“We did improve as a football team this week in a lot of areas,” Tucker promised. “Those are some things that didn’t show up for the entire game, but they will give us a chance to win and sustain winning in the future.”
Tucker’s in a tough spot, trying to sell hope and change with only so much he can do and no influx of talent walking into team headquarters.
I want to believe his belief, but at the same time it’s hard to buy into a predictable offense that lacks anything dynamic beyond Maurice Jones-Drew, and into a defense that’s too injured to cover against quality receivers being targeted by an accurate quarterback.
Jacksonville rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert and the offense pieced together a nice second quarter, when they turned a 10-0 deficit into a 14-10 lead. It was his first game with two touchdown passes, but an interception resulting from a miscommunication with receiver Mike Thomas late in the second quarter positioned San Diego to retake the lead before intermission.
And a team that hasn’t scored 21 points in a game all season never threatened to do so from that point forward.
“We executed well in the second quarter, but the biggest thing we’ve got to take out of this game is that we’ve got to execute like that the whole game,” Gabbert said. “We’ve got to play four quarters of football. We can’t just have one great quarter.”
I’d rather not carve up Tucker’s postgame comments, but how they squared with the game that came before them was somewhat striking to me.
He said playing from behind, the team remained confident in its game plan. “I didn’t see confusion, I saw an element of sharpness and crispness, I saw a confidence as guys broke the huddle,” he said.
I saw two Keystone Cops moment, with Gabbert simply dropping the football on a scramble before batting it out of bounds to earn a penalty, and with long snapper Jeremy Cain sending holder Nick Harris in wild pursuit of a well-wide snap on what was to have been a long field goal attempt.
Tucker said he did see a sense of urgency, but the Jaguars never really stepped up their tempo. Had they, things might have gotten worse, not better. But as with many things at this stage of a bad season, you have to ask: Why not try?
Tucker said “we did what we could,” and that I believe.
This is a limited team that needs a new coaching staff and its young quarterback to spend an offseason together, re-crafting an offense to be less predictable and feature more explosive pass catchers -- like San Diego receiver Vincent Jackson, who scored a 35-yard touchdown and is heading for unrestricted free agency.
Jacksonville doesn’t get to shop for such players yet, it’s got to make do with the ones it has.
Like undrafted rookie corner Kevin Rutland, who had good position against Vincent Brown in the end zone on a 22-yard touchdown reception, but failed to turn his head to locate the ball and make a play on it.
Rutland’s been with the Jaguars since the start of camp, he’s gotten sufficient work as an understudy and he should have been ready, he said.
“There should have been no slack,” he said. “I imagined my first start going a lot different. This is step one and I can grow from here."
He and a lot of people.