CLEVELAND, Ohio – The stage and storyline were perfectly set.
With the season in a very real sense on the line, the Jaguars on the banks of Lake Erie had an opportunity for a dramatic victory Sunday – and for their rookie quarterback to have what Jaguars Head Coach Jack Del Rio called a signature moment.
That didn't happen.
Instead, a late drive in the final minutes – a drive fraught with drama and meaning – ended with two incomplete passes from the Cleveland Browns' 1, and with those incomplete passes came a 14-10 loss in front of 63,498 at Cleveland Browns Stadium and quite likely the end of the Jaguars' fading playoff chances.
"You can't ask for a better game-ending type scenario," said Jaguars wide receiver Mike Thomas, the target of Jaguars rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert's pass on the game's final play. "You do everything right, then to get down there and not be able to punch it in . . .
"It's frustrating. It's very frustrating."
The loss moved the Jaguars to 3-7, four full games behind the Houston Texans and now needing many unlikely events to occur to make a push for their first post-season appearance since 2007.
It also left the Jaguars' locker room talking about what might have been.
"It just wasn't enough," Jaguars tight end Marcedes Lewis said. "Toward the end, we just didn't execute."
In the waning minutes, it appeared the post-game mood might be dramatically different.
The Jaguars, after squandering a 7-0 first-half lead, trailed 14-10 after Browns kicker Phil Dawson missed a 38-yard field goal with 2:53 remaining.
Two plays took the Jaguars to their 45 and the clock to two minutes.
Gabbert, who completed 22 of 41 passes for 210 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions, completed four of his next nine passes for 30 yards. That, and a 15-yard pass interference penalty on Cleveland cornerback Joe Haden against Jaguars wide receiver Jason Hill, helped move the ball to the Cleveland 5.
There, the Jaguars faced 3rd-and-1 with 41 seconds remaining.
Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew rushed three yards for a first down, after which Del Rio said the Jaguars took longer than was ideal to get the next play off.
The play was a 1-yard run by Jones-Drew to the 1, and with eight seconds remaining, the Jaguars called their final timeout.
The best opportunity for a victory came on the next play, when Gabbert threw to Hill in the corner of the end zone. With Hayden covering and appearing to hit Hill's hands just before the pass arrived, Hill couldn't hold on to the pass and the incompletion brought up 3rd-and-1 with three seconds remaining.
On the final play, Gabbert looked right, then threw slightly behind Thomas in the middle of the end zone. Incomplete.
Thomas said the last pass "was kind of out of reach for me, but that's no excuse."
Gabbert didn't discuss the final play specifically, but said whatever the specifics at game's end, "I've got to make a play, plain and simple."
"I've got to find a way – that's on me," said Gabbert, who directed an 18-lay, 92-yard drive in the first half that ended with a 6-yard touchdown run by Jones-Drew. "At the end of the day, my job as a quarterback is to score touchdowns."
Many around the Jaguars believed responsibility lay elsewhere.
That was particularly true of the Jaguars' defensive players. While the Jaguars allowed just 14 points, they allowed the Browns 148 yards rushing and quarterback Colt McCoy completed 17 of 24 passes for 199 yards and a touchdown with an interception.
The Browns had two touchdown drives of more than 80 yards, and the second – an 85-yarder in the third and fourth quarters, ended with McCoy passing three yards to Josh Cribbs for a 14-7 Browns lead with 12:15 remaining.
An interception at the Browns 3 by safety Dawan Landry ended another second-half drive.
"The defense was very disappointed with the way we fitted the run," Paul Posluszny said. "We didn't feel we played well defensively at all. We gave up 14 points, but it could have been a lot more than that. We lost our discipline in stopping the run and that was the difference in the game."
Whatever the difference, the result was what mattered and the result was a seventh loss, a sixth in the last eight games – and most likely, the end of the Jaguars' already-distant playoff hopes.
"It was all on the line right there and we really thought we had it," Jaguars center Brad Meester said. "We got down in there close. We weren't able to finish that drive. That's kind of how it's been for us all year. We have to finish in the red zone, especially in key situations like that."
Said Posluszny, "This is tough, because we felt like if we had played to our ability in this game we could have been right back in a competitive position. We're really disappointed in the way we played."
Also for the Jaguars Sunday:
*Linebacker Clint Session and defensive end Matt Roth each left the game in the second half after sustaining blows to the head. They did not return.
*Jaguars tight end Marcedes Lewis had his most productive game of the season, catching seven passes for 64 yards. He caught two passes for 19 yards on the final drive. "We grind every week," Lewis said. "We're going to build on it. I don't feel comfortable talking about my personal stuff after a loss, but it was something me and Blaine can build from. We're going to continue to build."
*Lewis on the time draining off the clock after the Jaguars' final first down on the final drive: "I did feel like it took a little longer to get down and get a play called and run a play, but no blame on anyone. I just felt like we needed a little better execution toward the end there on plays before we were rushing."
*Lewis said he was not a viable option on the game's final play, with the Cleveland defense immediately taking him out of the play. "They bracketed me," Lewis said. "The defense had a good play called. They had two guys blocking me out of that play. I just wish it wouldn't have to come down to the last play, but it is what it is."
*Jones-Drew said while the defensive players felt they could have played better Sunday, the offense continues to be a problem. The Jaguars have yet to score 21 points this season. "Ten points is not going to win games in this league," Jones-Drew said. "We have to find a way to put up points. All this excuse about young quarterback – we just have to make plays. If we can't make plays, we can't win football games. We have to find a way to make plays and we have to do our job better than we've been doing it the last couple of weeks."