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A plcae to start


CHARLOTTE, N.C.  – You have to start somewhere. With the Jaguars looking for answers and needing them now, let's start here:

Considering the circumstances, rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert handled himself well Sunday.  He showed some poise a lot of the time. He didn't appear overwhelmed.

This wasn't erect-statues-after-the-first game stuff, but it was a beginning.

To Gabbert, the aftermath of a 16-10 loss to the Carolina Panthers Sunday was no time for looking for signs of growth, or talking of the future. Those are big-picture storylines for another day.

How did his first NFL start feel, someone asked Gabbert in the bowels of Bank of America Stadium following his 12-of-21, 139-yard, one-touchdown performance.

"Not so good," Gabbert said. "We didn't come away with a win."

For Gabbert, there was no other storyline, and for those of us looking for perspective on the moment, there was nothing overly definite. Sometimes, historical events don't feel all that historical.

Such was the case with Gabbert's first NFL start.

Gabbert didn't win the game. Nor did he lose it. There was no storybook finish, and no late-game-turning interception. He played as you might expect. He had a long touchdown pass and a long interception. He made a few mistakes, but overall, he showed good pocket presence. At times, he stood in the pocket and made throws that made you feel darned good about his future.

 Good plays and bad plays, highs and lows, ups and downs. It's what you got from Cam Newton on the other side Sunday, too. It's the nature of rookie quarterbacking in the NFL.

"He did some decent things," Del Rio said of Gabbert's debut. "He did some things he'll do better as we move forward."

Afterward, Gabbert wasn't in a mood for reflection.

"There were ups and downs," he said. "There was a little adversity with the weather. At the end of the day, you still have to get your job done."

That was about it as far as Gabbert self-analyzing. That's not surprising, nor is it a bad thing. This analyze-the-rookie angle is for others, not for Gabbert.

But while he kept the self-evaluation to a minimum, something encouraging – and perhaps significant – did happen in the press conference:

Gabbert handled things the right way.

A major post-game angle was the game's end.  A pass to tight end Marcedes Lewis gave the Jaguars 2nd-and-1 at the 35 with 16 seconds remaining. Gabbert took the Jaguars to the line, but officials stopped the game for a replay review. The play was upheld, and coming out of the review, the clock ran. The Jaguars offense was a few seconds slow to get to the line. More time ran off before the snap, and following an incomplete pass to Jason Hill, time had expired.

Had the offense been at the line quicker, and had the ball been snapped quicker, the Jaguars could have gotten two plays there, maybe three. Del Rio took the blame for the situation afterward, and seconds later, Gabbert did, too.

"It falls on my shoulders," Gabbert said. "We should have at least two shots at the end zone in that situation."

It was, to be fair, a tough situation. Gabbert appeared to be motioning for the snap, and as Del Rio said later, the entire offense could have operated more quickly. As Del Rio also said, the officials could have given the Jaguars more time to get to the line.

The reality? That didn't cost the Jaguars the game. Opportunities already had been lost throughout the second half to massage a five-point halftime lead into an eight- or 10-point margin. By the final possession, the Jaguars had played their way into a need-a-miracle situation. The Jaguars already had hit one 35-yard touchdown on the last play of the first half.

Asking for another to with the game was a bit much.

Gabbert, too, took responsibility for three fumbles. So wet were the conditions that at one point, there were no new, dry balls to use. Gabbert noted that preparing for the conditions is difficult, but said that didn't matter, either.

"You have to take care of the football in that situation," Gabbert said. "I can't have those fumbles."

If Gabbert's self-assessment leaned toward the harsh, teammates and coaches felt differently.

"There were some really good things that we'll build on," Del Rio said. "He sees the field. He has a good arm. It's exciting we got our start with him."

The consensus? Not a perfect start, certainly, but decent – maybe better.

 "He played solid, given the conditions and everything like that," Lewis said. "We have to play that much better around him to help him make the transition. I'm pretty sure Blaine's going to play better next week."

Solid is not spectacular, but you weren't going to get spectacular from Gabbert Sunday. The slick conditions didn't help and a game plan that emphasized the run far more than the pass didn't, either. At some point, as he becomes more comfortable in the offense, I'd expect the Jaguars to let him throw more and in situations more conducive to passing success – i.e., 1st-and-10 and 2nd-and reasonable. When that happens, you'll get a better feel for what he can do.

But for now, solid is OK. Yes, the Jaguars' offense needs better quarterback play and needs it now. There's every reason to believe Gabbert will provide it. When is what's unknown. The process could take a month. More likely, it will take longer. A lot longer.

In the meantime, you look for something, a sliver of hope, a start. So there's this: The Jaguars are 1-2 and the offense is struggling more than even the most pessimistic observers expected. Given those circumstances, and with New Orleans, Pittsburgh and Houston in the coming weeks, the Jaguars need to start somewhere.

A rookie quarterback handling himself well and showing some maturity in adversity may be as good a place to begin as any.

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