On a dreary December afternoon at EverBank Field, Mel Tucker got his first win as an NFL head coach and franchise icon Maurice Jones-Drew met and sailed past a historic team milestone as the Jaguars soundly defeated the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 41-14 with aggressive play from all three phases. It looked at first like it would be another day of the 2011 script we’ve become all too familiar with – falling behind early after a slow defensive start and feeling helpless as the feeble offensive attack struggles to move the ball. Tampa Bay moved effortlessly down the field in their opening drive, targeting the Jaguars’ deeply depleted defensive backfield and punching in the touchdown from the 1 yard line with the violent, rumbling force that is Legarrette Blount. The Jaguars had little answer offensively and were forced to punt after moving the ball 13 yards and despite recovering the muffed punt return from Preston Parker, came out of the 1st quarter with no points on the board. The Bucs next scoring drive came from a short field following an interception on a very poorly-advised throw from Blaine Gabbert and the Jaguars found themselves in a 14-0 hole that, at least this season, has seemed like an insurmountable deficit. But that all changed with a BOOMING hit from Montell Owens…The Jaguars first points of the day came on a punt return where Montell Owens tackled low and Brock Bolen tackled high and the previously anonymous Colin Cloherty, who’s been a Jaguars for less than a month and was called up from the practice squad this week, picked up the fumble following the violent collisions and glided into the end zone for what proved to be a massive turning point in the contest. From there, the Jaguars exhausted every trick in the book in finding ways to torment the Buccaneers and creating turnovers. Montell Owens forced both special teams turnovers, Legarrette Blount had the ball stripped from his hands on a huge hit from Russell Allen, Josh Freeman and Josh Johnson were picked off a total of three times, and Freeman was strip-sacked near the goal line and big Nate Collins covered up the ball in the endzone for the touchdown.
The defense and special teams weren’t the only ones who showed up for the party, as Blaine Gabbert showed a renewed ability to move the offense down the field and fan favorite Maurice Jones-Drew got into the end zone four times, as he surpassed Fred Taylor as the Jaguars all-time touchdowns leader. Before it was all said and done, the Jaguars had scored 41 unanswered points, burying the Buccaneers spirits and putting on quite the show for a home crowd that has endured many a game this season that featured a more pathetic offensive attack than the French army. The Bucanneers are struggling plenty on their own and Josh Freeman looked especially awful, but a win like this was much needed, much deserved, and is the type of turnaround game that the Jaguars’ young players can build off of.
There are many more positives to explore and nagging problems to dissect in this week’s columns, but for now, let’s enjoy a resounding win. There haven’t been many warm feelings to bask in as a Jaguars fan this season, so milk this one for all it’s worth.
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– Andrew Hofheimer