ST. LOUIS, Mo. – This one got away.
That's how Paul Posluszny saw it, because even if the Jaguars' 34-20 loss to the St. Louis Rams wasn't about allowing a lead to slip away, it was about not seizing opportunity.
For all of the other things that happened Sunday at the Edward Jones Dome – Luke Joeckel's injury, Blaine Gabbert's struggles and injury, and even a lot of positives – Posluszny said he will remember a late drive that could have and should have been a stop.
Only it wasn't. And the 80-yard drive that gave the Rams a two-touchdown lead with less than six minutes remaining made the fifth consecutive loss different and more painful for Posluszny and the Jaguars' defense.
Because this could have been different. But it wasn't.
"We're in a position to go three-and-out to get our offense the ball back, and we come up short defensively," Posluszny said afterward. "That's very disappointing."
There was a lot of talk like that in the locker room Sunday – about little things that could have been different. Because while there were times the Rams outplayed the Jaguars, there were times they didn't. Head Coach Gus Bradley has emphasized getting better each week. Sometimes, the Jaguars have this season and sometimes they haven't, but for extended parts of Sunday's game, they did.
"We try to define ourselves to be a culture of excellence," Bradley said. "That's what we're going to continue to strive to be. We're not there yet. It shows up on the game field, but that's our objective. That's what we're trying to do. We'll continue to work those things."
The Jaguars outgained the Rams Sunday, 363-351. Justin Blackmon returned and made game-changing plays, including a 67-yard touchdown reception in the first quarter.
Running back Maurice Jones-Drew also ran better than he has all season, running for 70 yards on 17 carries behind a line that began the game with Joeckel at a new position – left tackle – and finished it with Joeckel done for the season, Austin Pasztor at right tackle and Cameron Bradfield at left tackle.
Those were positives, but Bradley in his post-game remarks emphasized turnovers, and he was right. Not only did Gabbert's first-quarter interception turn positive field position into a 7-7 tie when Rams safety Matt Giordano returned it 82 yards for a touchdown, a fumble by tight end Clay Harbor led directly to a touchdown pass from Sam Bradford to tight end Lance Kendricks.
If the Rams' 24-10 halftime lead felt similar to earlier halftime deficits this season, it felt less that way when the Jaguars drove inside the Rams 5-yard line on their first possession of the second half. The Jaguars ran six plays inside the 5, including a 23-yard field goal by Josh Scobee that Bradley took off the board following a Rams penalty. The last of those plays was an interception by Rams linebacker James Laurinitus, with Gabbert throwing to a double-covered Cecil Shorts III.
"We just have to find a way to stack good things on top of each other," Bradley said. "Right now, we have something good happen, another thing good, then we make a mistake that ends up jeopardizing a series or an opportunity to go score."
Sunday will be remembered for more than turnovers. Joeckel's injury is crucial. The injury isn't considered career-threatening, but done for the year in Week 5 isn't what you wanted from the No. 2 selection in the draft.
And there absolutely remains the issue of quarterback.
Gabbert struggled in a big way Sunday. He threw beautifully at times – an early pass to Shorts, the touchdown to Blackmon, a 28-yarder to Shorts coming out of his own end zone early in the second quarter. Those were big-time throws, the throws that made him a top-10 selection.
But Gabbert made too many mistakes. Far too many.
He showed too little pocket presence at times. Far too little.
Gabbert left in the third quarter with a hamstring injury, and Bradley was quick to say he didn't plan to remove Gabbert from the game had it not been for the injury. He also said Gabbert will continue to start if healthy, but quarterback will be a burning issue this week, and rightly so. Gabbert has thrown one touchdown and seven interceptions, and by any measure, hasn't been good enough.
That issue remains to be debated, but what wasn't debated was that for all else that happened Sunday, the Jaguars had a chance at game's end.
Chad Henne replaced Gabbert, and led the Jaguars to a quick field goal and threw a four-yard touchdown pass to Shorts. That made it 27-20 with 10:22 remaining.
"We're in it – the offense does a great job, and we have a chance to stop them and have a chance to win at the end," linebacker Russell Allen said.
Eight plays later, Bradford threw his second touchdown of the game, a 31-yarder to wide receiver Austin Pettis, and what could have been a chance at a late comeback drive wasn't.
"All you can ask for is a chance to make a stop and have a chance to win, so that's going to hurt," Allen said.
Yes, there will be issues this week. And yes, we will all talk quarterback and the immediate future without the long-term left tackle. But the Jaguars had a chance to win Sunday, or at least a chance to have a chance to win, and that was the first time that happened this season.
Because this one could have been different. Only it wasn't.
And that meant it hurt a little more.