Justin Blackmon key to Jaguars' offense

DENVER -- There can no longer be any question concerning which player makes the Jacksonville Jaguars' offense go.

For years it was running back Maurice Jones-Drew. Now it’s second-year wide receiver Justin Blackmon.

He caught a career-high 14 passes for 190 yards in the Jaguars’ 35-19 loss to the Denver Broncos on Sunday, which is impressive enough. But looking at what the Jaguars have done the past two weeks illuminates his worth even more.

Blackmon was suspended for the first four games for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy. During those games the Jaguars averaged 224 yards of total offense and 7.8 points. In the last two games with Blackmon in the lineup, the Jaguars have averaged 362.5 yards of total offense and 19.5 points.

In the two games, losses to the Broncos and St. Louis Rams, Blackmon has caught 19 passes for 326 yards and a touchdown. But more importantly, the Jaguars were in each game in the fourth quarter: trailing the Rams by seven points and the Broncos by 11.

"Offense, overall, has been doing well," Blackmon said. "We’re getting better and better each day and we’re getting better as a team. It’s all we can ask for. I just try to go out there and do whatever they tell me to do. If the play is there, if the opportunity is there, just try to capitalize on it."

It’s no coincidence that the Jaguars' two best offensive outputs of the season have come with Blackmon in the lineup. What made Sunday’s performance even more impressive was the fact that Cecil Shorts, the team’s leading receiver (31 catches for 411 yards) left the game on the third offensive play with a sprained right shoulder.

That meant the Jaguars’ receivers were Blackmon, rookie Ace Sanders (14 catches entering the game), converted college quarterback Mike Brown (three career games entering Sunday), and Stephen Williams, whom the Jaguars claimed off waivers last Monday.

It’s no surprise, then, that quarterback Chad Henne targeted Blackmon 20 times in his 42 pass attempts even though Blackmon was being covered by likely Hall of Famer Champ Bailey.

"He’s going to be a good receiver for a long time," said Bailey, who missed the first five games of the season because of a foot injury. "I really gave him props because he worked hard. He’s on a team that’s 0-5 and guys can get down, but that shows how special he is. He kept working. He kept grinding and he looks good."

Despite missing the first four games, Blackmon is on pace to catch more than 100 passes and that’s a pace that he can keep up, guard Uche Nwaneri said.

"Justin’s a special talent," Nwaneri said. "He plays very aggressively. He plays like a 6-foot-5 guy when he’s only 6-foot-1. Plays with confidence and he brings that kind of attitude to our entire receiving corps. Those guys are all out there playing with confidence. He’s clearly got a special skill set that he displays when he goes out there every Sunday."

He also is clearly the key to the offense.