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Handling the situation

Posted Nov 27, 2011

Gabbert: “All I can do is learn from it.”

Maybe this was the low point, and maybe it wasn’t.

At this point in the Jaguars’ decidedly disappointing 2011 season, it’s dangerous to predict things such as how much worse things can get, but we do know this:

This moment? This game? This scene of Blaine Gabbert, the Jaguars’ rookie quarterback, being pulled from a 20-13 loss to the Houston Texans at EverBank Field?

It will be remembered, and it must be remembered.

It will be remembered because anytime a starting quarterback is pulled – even if, as Jaguars Head Coach Jack Del Rio indicated afterward, it is a temporary, one-game thing – it will remembered.

Afterward, Gabbert said the right things.

“You never want to lose a game,” Gabbert said after completing 13 of 29 passes for 136 yards with no touchdowns and an interception. “As a competitive guy, you never want to be pulled, but that’s out of my control.”

Gabbert also said, “All I can do is learn from it and get better next week to play on Monday (when the Jaguars play at home against San Diego).”

Afterward, Del Rio said the right things, too, and so did backup Luke McCown.

Del Rio said it was his decision and his alone to pull Gabbert with 7:03 remaining. He said he wanted to give the offense a spark, which McCown did, temporarily at least. McCown led the Jaguars on a field-goal drive that made it a seven-point game, and then he got them inside Texans territory.

It ended as it has ended too often for the Jaguars this season, with the offense unable to make a play when it was needed, and when McCown’s fourth-down pass to Mike Thomas fell incomplete, the Jaguars’ AFC South hopes were officially over.

The most correct thing Del Rio said afterward? That Gabbert is still the starting quarterback. He said while McCown played well, and while he showed why he is a solid veteran backup, “Blaine is our starting quarterback until I tell you otherwise.”

Nothing otherwise, of course, should be said.

Yes, Gabbert struggled. He has struggled often this season. But when the Jaguars moved him into the starting lineup in Week 3, the commitment was made that Gabbert must start when healthy until he no longer is the team’s future. We’re a long way from that and will remain a long way from that for a long time.

McCown understands that, as he should being an eight-year veteran. He didn’t lobby for the job afterward, and did what his job entails, supporting his younger teammate and friend.

“Blaine is growing,” McCown said. “He’s getting better. You guys (media) don’t get to see what I see, what the rest of the players see during the week. Even game-to-game, the things we emphasize, that the coaches emphasize, he gets better at. He’s growing. He’s getting better.

“We’ve just got to hang with him.”

Hanging with Gabbert doesn’t mean giving McCown a game or two now. It means putting Gabbert back into the starting lineup, and it means realizing that the growth process for a young quarterback isn’t one-step forward, two-steps forward. It’s one step forward, one step back. Sometimes it’s more steps back than that.

Sometimes, it’s hard. Sometimes, it tests your faith.

What’s most difficult right now is it’s hard to fully assess Gabbert, and will remain so through the course of the 2011 season. What ails the offense is partly a rookie quarterback, partly a player struggling to get comfortable in the pocket, and still struggling with accuracy at times. But it’s not all Gabbert. He got hit far too often Sunday, and while the Texans’ defense is much-improved this season, the offensive line didn’t have its best game. And of course, there are still the issues of dropped passes, of Marcedes Lewis’ struggles, of route-running by the receivers. And so on.

There clearly is a lot wrong everywhere, and with five games remaining, it may or may not be right by season’s end.

As a team, where do the Jaguars go from here?

That’s a question that has gotten asked often in recent weeks. On Sunday, the Jaguars’ division title hopes officially ended. Soon enough, their post-season hopes will, too. Five games remain, and that’s an awful lot of time to keep asking about playing for pride.

Whether or not this is the low point remains to be seen, but while that was a question Sunday, it wasn’t the most important question.

The most important question involved what through most of the season has been the most important question involving the Jaguars. It involves Gabbert, because while this game will be remembered because he didn’t finish, this particular game isn’t what’s really all that important.

Gabbert on Sunday was pulled from an NFL game. It’s not the first time it ever has happened to a young NFL quarterback, but it is the first time it has happened to Gabbert.

As the locker room emptied Sunday, Gabbert stood and spoke to the media for a long time. He didn’t duck questions. As has been the case all season, he said what you want to hear. He took responsibility, and spoke with the confidence of a starting quarterback.

The scene is one that will be remembered, and one Gabbert must remember as he moves on. But it’s not the most important thing about Sunday. Not in the big picture.

What’s important is how Gabbert responds, and how he grows from this, and on that issue as has been the case all season, only time will tell.

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