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Editorial: New Orleans – Now, it’s OK to get excited.

Posted Aug 17, 2012

Take that from Friday night above anything else. That feeling you had in the first half? It was real. And if you care about the Jaguars, it’s OK to be optimistic, to allow yourself to think this can last. It’s OK to have hope, to think, “Maybe . . .” That’s true even though it’s still preseason, and would have been OK no matter what happened in the second half of Friday night’s preseason game.

That’s because all you needed to see happened in the first half.

And from the Jaguars’ point of view? Well, things looked awfully good:

*Justin Blackmon made a successful debut. Very, very successful.

*Blaine Gabbert continued to look better. A lot better.

*The run game continued to work. Really, really work.

For all of those reasons and more, the offense looked good in the first half – good enough to lead one of the NFL’s best teams, 17-10, at halftime, and good enough to make you believe this offense can be productive, even exciting.

What more did you want from Friday night?

The 27-24 victory over the New Orleans Saints was a positive for this franchise. It allowed players and coaches to maintain the good feeling that started last week with a preseason-opening victory over the Giants, but long-term, what mattered more came early.

We’ll get to Gabbert in a moment, because on Friday all eyes early were on Blackmon. The Jaguars drafted him No. 5 overall in April, and if what those eyes saw in the first half Friday was any indication, that extra draft pick the Jaguars gave up to get the two-time Biletnikoff Award winner . . .  well, they’ll consider it a pretty good deal.

He played the entire first half. That wasn’t going to happen unless he was in shape to do so, and apparently he was. He finished with four receptions for 48 yards.

Four receptions in a half?

“That’s a goal,” he said, smiling. “I just like going out and competing, and have a fun time do it.”

He was also asked about pressure, and nerves.

 “I felt comfortable,” said Blackmon, whose parents surprised him by making the nine-hour, 38-minute drive from Ardmore, Okla. “No nerves, no butterflies -- just excited to be out here.”

The catches he made were big ones. Two came on third downs. Each went for a first down, and at the end of the first drive of the game – an 80-yarder – he caught a short pass from Gabbert and turned the play into an easy-16-yard, catch-and-run touchdown.

That may not have erased the memory of a difficult offseason and a 10-day holdout, but it sure showed what the Jaguars think Blackmon can be.

And the Jaguars’ good feeling Friday on that first drive?

It wasn’t just Blackmon, though, he was key to it. Rashad Jennings ran three times for 38 yards. Gabbert also completed a pass to Colin Cloherty. The Jaguars faced third down just once, and on 3rd-and-8, Gabbert threw short to Blackmon, who turned it into an easy catch-and-run touchdown.

Two series later, a quick pass to Blackmon converted another third down, and you started to see what Blackmon might mean to the Jaguars’ offense – and of course, to Gabbert.

If there was a knock on Blackmon when the Jaguars made him the No. 5 overall selection it was that he wasn’t big enough or fast enough to be a true No. 1 receiver. It’s hard to prove or disprove that in one game, but Blackmon on Friday did what he did best in college. He got open on intermediate routes, caught the ball and turned an average gain into something bigger.

“He did well,” Jaguars Head Coach Mike Mularkey said. “I was glad to see that happen. He made a play. You could see his ball skills, he’s got strong hands and he knows how to find the end zone.”

The Jaguars had nothing like that last season. The benefit of that to an offense is immeasurable. Third downs become first downs. Normal plays become touchdowns.

Will it happen in the regular season?

That remains to be seen, but it happened Friday, and that meant for a second consecutive week a team that needed it had as good a start as it could have imagined.

As for Gabbert, he had his good start to the preseason last week.

For him, Friday was more than a continuation. It was another step forward after an offseason and camp making those steps in dramatic fashion.

“It’s night and day from last year,” cornerback Rashean Mathis said of the second-year quarterback. “He is showing that when he has time he is able to deliver the ball. He’s able to go through his reads and make the throws.

“Kudos to the offensive line as well and big kudos to Blaine.  He’s been impressive.”

Yes, for a night at least, there were kudos all around. Twitter blew up with praise of the Jaguars’ offense, and Jaguars fans sticking their social media chests out with pride.

 And you know what? Good for those fans. Good for those chests. Stick them out, and be proud. This isn’t a finished product. We’ll keep saying that until it is a finished product, and Week 2 of the preseason is too early for proclamations.

So, we won’t proclaim anything, but this preseason was about seeing something from the Jaguars’ offense. It was about seeing growth, and development. We have seen that, and that’s certainly enough to give you hope.

So, yes, get excited. It’s OK.  The Jaguars are excited, too, and two weeks into the preseason, it appears they deserve to be just that.

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