GREEN BAY, Wis. – Blaine Gabbert stayed on message, absolutely and positively.
That's how the Jaguars quarterback is in dealing with the media, so when asked Sunday about having the best game of his career in the most difficult circumstances, his answer wasn't surprising.
He had talked this week of mind over matter.
That was his way of downplaying the prospect of playing through a left shoulder injury, and on Sunday, he used the same phrase. Exactly. Asked if it took a short while to get comfortable considering his circumstance, Gabbert said, no, not at all.
"Everything was normal at the start of the game," he said, adding. "It was just mind over matter at that point."
Well said, but here's the rub:
Everything wasn't normal for Gabbert on Sunday. Not even close.
He was playing in pain. A lot of pain. It was pain enough to have him not finish the game last week, and while he downplayed it on Sunday, there was no way it didn't hurt. And there was no way a hit by Green Bay linebacker Clay Matthews in the second quarter didn't shake him up. At least a little.
Gabbert got up slowly after the hit. He then did something he hasn't always done in 21 NFL starts.
He came back on the next play and made a big play. He threw 20 yards to second-year wide receiver Cecil Shorts, and the pass was well-timed enough that Shorts took the pass and turned it into a 35-yard gain.
It was the sort of play we haven't seen enough of from Gabbert, the sort of throw that madehim the No. 10 overall selection in the NFL Draft in 2011.
But forget a moment what we haven't seen – and forget for a moment that this game didn't end as Gabbert or the Jaguars wanted – because this day wasn't about that. At least part of the story for the Jaguars on Sunday was what we did see in Gabbert, and Mike Mularkey said it best in his post-game press conference.
"I've said it before: He's a tough quarterback," Mularkey said. "He took a couple of shots. He continued to play, and continued to make some throws."
Mularkey then added, ""I thought he took a step forward today."
We won't play this off like Gabbert outplayed Aaron Rodgers. That wasn't the case, even though Rodgers had 186 yards passing while being harassed by a Jaguars defense that played as well as it has this season. Rodgers may be the best quarterback playing right now, and he did what the great ones do. He made the plays that mattered, and as a result, Green Bay never lost control of the game in the second half.
But Sunday, for Gabbert, wasn't about matching up with Rodgers.
It was about for the first time in his career being the focal point of the offense. Without Maurice Jones-Drew, the Jaguars needed Gabbert to be a consistent quarterback, to make the throws that were there, to make a few big plays.
More than at any time in his career Sunday, Gabbert did that, and threw for a career-high 303 yards and a touchdown.
Just as we won't play this off like Gabbert outplayed Rodgers, we won't play this off as a perfect game, either. Honestly, had Gabbert been more consistent, had the Jaguars been able to score in the third quarter, this was a winnable game. Instead, the offense had one of those maddening stretching it seems to have each game when it just didn't function. The Jaguars didn't get a first down in the quarter.
In fact, they lost a total of one yard on three drives.
The Jaguars had chances in that quarter to take the lead. Instead, the Packers got their offense moving early in the fourth quarter, and when Rodgers passed four yards to Donald Driver, Green Bay had a double-digit lead and the Jaguars never again got closer than six.
But while you can point to the third quarter and say, "What if?" you have to point to the rest of the game and wonder, "What can be?" We still don't know that yet, but if you're looking for a positive sign about Gabbert Sunday it what he did after that difficult third quarter – or more accurately, what he didn't do.
He didn't fold. He didn't go into a long stretch of ineffectiveness.
Instead, he led a fourth-quarter field goal drive. And with the Jaguars trailing by six with 5:52 remaining, Gabbert led the Jaguars out of the shadow of the end zone. From the 8, the Jaguars moved 42 yards to the 50.
The drive stalled, and Gabbert's pass on 4th-and-6 fell incomplete. Gabbert afterward took the blame for that pass, saying he made the wrong read, the wrong throw.
Because the comeback fell short, this can't be called a breakout game for Gabbert. You don't break out as a quarterback in losses. But that doesn't mean his progress Sunday was meaningless.
What the end game is we don't know, and won't for a while. But if that end game winds up positively for Gabbert, Sunday may eventually be seen as a huge early step – even if the end wasn't what he or the Jaguars wanted.