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A hurt that will last

Posted Nov 20, 2011

Jaguars won’t soon forget pain of a missed opportunity in Cleveland.

CLEVELAND, Ohio – This one hurt. This one, you don’t forget. Not soon.

Not that they don’t all hurt, not that Maurice Jones-Drew wasn’t right after a 14-10 loss to the Cleveland Browns at Cleveland Browns Stadium Sunday when he said all Jaguars losses this season have felt the same.

A punch in the gut? Jones-Drew was asked.

“They all feel like that,” the two-time Pro Bowl running back said after a late Jaguars drive fell just frustratingly, tantalizingly short, with rookie Blaine Gabbert twice throwing incomplete from the 1-yard line in the final 10 seconds.

“How many is that? Seven on the year? They all hurt anytime you lose, especially when you have a chance to win.”

Jones-Drew’s math, unfortunately for the Jaguars’ playoff hopes, was correct.

That is indeed seven. Seven down, and only three up, and while the Jaguars aren’t mathematically eliminated from playoff contention, any playoff talk now must be accompanied by words such as miracle and improbable.

It’s just not likely to happen.

And while a playoff appearance wasn’t all that likely anyway entering Sunday, this one hurt because it would have made the coming week and perhaps the rest of the season so much more interesting – and more importantly, it would have given credence to what the Jaguars keep saying and what they genuinely believe.

They believe they’re better than 3-7. They believe there’s good stuff going on.

They believe, despite critics and statistics to the contrary, that they are close to being good offensively – and that rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert is taking steps in the right direction.

There were times Sunday when they were right, especially about the last part. Gabbert has come under more and more scrutiny in recent weeks, but those around the Jaguars said the last two weeks of practice have been his best. There was a thought entering Sunday he was ready for a breakout game, a signature moment.

And that came oh-so-close to being the day’s storyline.

Yes, Gabbert had his struggles. He went 1 of 6 in the third quarter, a quarter when the Jaguars’ defense uncharacteristically let the Browns take control of the game’s momentum.

But early on, he looked good – as good as he has all season, at least, and composed. The Jaguars for a second consecutive week grinded out a touchdown drive in excess of 85 yards, and on the 92-yard first-half drive Sunday that gave the Jaguars a 7-0 lead Gabbert looked poised in the pocket, and was as accurate as he has been this season.

Gabbert also was helped greatly Sunday by the reemergence of tight end Marcedes Lewis, who didn’t dominate, but who played well enough to be as big a factor in the offense as he has been all season. If Lewis and Gabbert indeed are beginning to find something like a groove, that’s a long-anticipated positive for all involved.

Gabbert did good things in the fourth quarter, too. The Jaguars had two fourth-quarter possessions Sunday. On the first, they drove 56 yards to the Cleveland 24 and pulled to within 14-10 when Josh Scobee kicked a 42-yard field goal. On the second?

Well, on the second they came within an incomplete pass in the left corner of the end zone to Jason Hill with three seconds remaining of a victory. We call it an “incomplete pass” because it was tough immediately to tell if it should have been caught. Hill said it happened too fast for him to know. Del Rio said Browns cornerback Joe Haden did a good job of getting away with an early strip.

Either way, it was the sort of play that has haunted the Jaguars this season – i.e., one that while difficult perhaps should have been made and at minimum could have been made.

Before closing, we’ll discuss the final seconds. An early inbox perusal says people are angry with play-calling and time management. The Jaguars took longer than necessary following their final first down, but not using the timeout made sense on at least one front. Burn it and you lose the option of running Jones-Drew on 1st-and-goal from the 2.

The decision to pass twice from the 1 also will be questioned. The pass to Hill on 2nd-and-1 was the right call. Run there and fail and the game is over. Pass, and you have another opportunity.

Third and goal from the 1? The Jaguars threw again – this time incomplete to Mike Thomas. Many would have run Jones-Drew. An argument could be made for that, a pretty strong one, but I don’t mind the throw there, and in retrospect what Marv Levy used to say about such a decision rings true:

It’s the wrong call if it fails and you’re a genius if it works.

Still, the bottom line at game’s end was this:

The Jaguars once again had a chance – several chances, actually – to make a play. Once again, they didn’t. When made, such plays change seasons. When they don’t get made, you have Jones-Drew at the post-game podium saying, “We just have to keep working. Somehow, some way we have to get tired of losing.”

You also get wide receiver Mike Thomas saying, “We’ve had obviously games we felt like we should have won. It’s bad, too, because we do work hard. We put in the time and do everything we’re supposed to do the right way.

“To keep coming up short is definitely not a good feeling.”

Make no mistake: No one around the Jaguars felt good Sunday. The locker room was not a happy place, which is at it should be when a season’s playoff hopes end in frustrating fashion and when what could have been a signature moment instead becomes a microcosm of the season.

In the end, that’s what Sunday was, not a signature, but a symbol. Could it have been different? Definitely. Should it have been? Maybe. Either way, this one hurt.

And either way, this one the Jaguars won’t soon forget.

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