Welcome to bizzarro world, folks. Through the first three quarters, this was one of the strangest and must offensively devoid games you will see in 2011. The defenses dominated the evening as both offenses sputtered all night (except for a late Baltimore drive with the Jaguars in loose zone coverage) and the play was incredibly sloppy to go along with it – penalties, fumbles, ridiculous challenges – and ultimately, a big win in Jacksonville over the heavily-favored Ravens. The Jaguars needed this one badly and the franchise that is often on the receiving end of many an uninformed joke had the last laugh tonight in a game that was a metaphorical loogie in the face of what Roger Goodell is pushing the NFL to become. It ain’t pretty, but you better believe the players and fans will take this one.
The Jaguars defense deserves the credit in this one, as they turned in a truly marvelous performance. The front four were often the only ones rushing the passer and they had Joe Flacco on the move and making all kinds of bad decisions. The linebackers were making plays all over the field and getting pressure when the blitz was dialed up. The defensive backs kept tight coverage through the first three quarters and prevented the Ravens from beating them deep and making a quick comeback, capping it with a clutch interception by Drew Coleman on the Ravens’ final comeback attempt. Rashean Mathis, Daryl Smith, and Jeremy Mincey all deserve game balls for tremendous performances.
On the other side of the ball, there was much reason to be concerned. Maurice Jones-Drew did what he could to chip away at a punishing Baltimore front seven, but had an alarming lack of ball security, fumbling three times. Gabbert seems to have reached a bit of a plateau and continues to take sacks when he shouldn’t make too many throws off his back foot, but he’s doing a good job of not handing games away with fumbles and interceptions. Against this defense, I think that’s acceptable and he sure isn’t getting help from the receivers. It’s reached the point of being ridiculous tonight. Drops (and of the variety that hit receivers in the hands) are supposed to be a rarity for NFL receivers, but Jaguars fans have gotten used to counting our receivers’ weekly drops on their fingers and toes. Marcedes Lewis continues to be a non-factor in the passing game and frankly, downright embarrassing. For a guy who claims to be a leader of this team and who sat our practice to get a long-term contract, the drops are nauseating, but the lack of passion is even more upsetting. I’m just not seeing it from this guy.
The coaching staff wasn’t necessarily sharp either, but they found a way to get the win against a tough team. I wasn’t a fan of the ugly challenge or the soft prevent-style defense that allowed the Baltimore touchdown drive, but they had their team excited to play Monday Night Football and a strong gameplan for the John Harbaugh and the Ravens.
Special kudos to new punter Nick Harris, who has been mistake-free and mildly impressive in his pinch-hitting appearance for Matt Turk, and of course, Josh Scobee, who has been absolutely perfect this year and certainly earned his keep tonight. Scobee was 4/4 on field goals from 54, 54, 22, and a clutch 51 yarder to seal the win. Extremely impressive turnaround for special teams.
This is a big win for Gabbert, Jack Del Rio, and the locker room. Each of them needed it in a bad way and despite there being much to pick apart, this is a huge building block and a boost to a locker room that has stunk of frustration after repeatedly falling just short of the victory in several games over the last few weeks. Do not underestimate how much it means to these guys to see their hard work realized with a win on the big stage against a top-flight team.
Savor this, Jags fans and keep your fingers crossed that we just ignited something special.
– Andrew Hofheimer