Justin Blackmon made his debut Friday. Consider it a success.
Blackmon, the No. 5 overall selection in the 2012 NFL Draft, caught four passes for 48 yards and a touchdown, helping the Jaguars to a strong first half and a 27-24 come-from-behind victory over the Saints Friday night in front of 72,056 at the Mercedes Benz Superdome in New Orleans, La.
The Jaguars led 17-10 at halftime, pulling their starters at that point.
"It felt really good," Blackmon said after his 16-yard touchdown reception capped an 80-yard touchdown drive on the game's first possession. "I'm just glad to be back out there competing and I'm having a good time doing it.
"It was a good start."
Jaguars quarterback Blaine Gabbert led two first-half touchdown drives, capping a second-quarter drive with a 15-yard touchdown pass to tight Colin Cloherty for a 14-3 Jaguars lead.
"It was a good team win," Gabbert said. "We started fast and we finished strong."
The Saints rallied with the reserves from both teams in the game, taking a 20-17 lead midway through the fourth quarter. Jaguars third-team quarterback Jordan Palmer led a late drive deep in Saints territory which was aided by two pass interference penalties.
Palmer capped the drive with an 11-yard touchdown pass to rookie free agent wide receiver Kevin Elliott with 13 seconds remaining. That was the second consecutive week Palmer has rallied the Jaguars to a victory in the final seconds.
"Comebacks are a lot easier and big plays are a lot easier when you've got guys making plays," Palmer said.
The Jaguars beat the New York Giants, 32-31, in the preseason opener last week.
PLAY OF THE GAME
There were many for the Jaguars' offense, particularly in the first half, but the play people will remember came at the end of the opening drive of the game. The Jaguars had driven from their 20 and faced 3rd-and-8 from the Saints 16. Gabbert threw to his right, and found Blackmon nine yards down field. Having created separation with a quick route, Blackmon plucked the pass from the air and turned the play into a relatively easy catch-and-run touchdown. All eyes were on Blackmon, and he came through in about as impressive a fashion as you can in a preseason game.
The Jaguars took a 7-3 lead after the first quarter and for a second consecutive week, they led off the game with an impressive drive. Gabbert completed 3 of 3 passes for 38 yards on the drive, with two of the completions going to Blackmon. The second completion to Blackmon turned 3rd-and-8 into a 16-yard touchdown and a 7-0 Jaguars lead. Jacksonville outgained the Saints, 106-71, in the quarter. The Saints had a quick drive following the Jaguars' touchdown, and Garrett Hartley's 37-yard field goal made it 7-3.
The Jaguars extended a four-point lead to 17-10 entering the half, with the first-team offense essentially playing until halftime. Gabbert continued to look good, and his 15-yard pass to Cloherty pushed the lead to 14-3 with 9:00 remaining in the half. Defensive end Jeremy Mincey then sacked Drew Brees to force a fumble that Terrance Knighton recovered to set up a 36-yard field goal by Josh Scobee. The Saints cut the lead to 17-10 with an eight-yard touchdown pass from Brees to Devry Henderson.
The Jaguars continued to hold the lead into the fourth quarter, allowing an early Saints touchdown before pulling back ahead by three. Joseph Morgan tied the game with 53-yard pass from Chase Daniel. Scobee's 47-yard field goal came with 1:40 remaining and gave the Jaguars a 20-17 lead entering the fourth quarter.
The Jaguars held their lead much of the quarter before Daniels' 24-yard pass to Travaris Cadet gave the Saints their first lead with 1:53 remaining. Palmer then drove the Jaguars 74 yards, throwing to Elliott for the rookie's first reception and the go-ahead touchdown with 13 seconds remaining.
"He (Gabbert) stands in the pocket. The protection for the most part has been very good. We've got to stop some of the penalties we're creating down here in the red zone, making it tough on ourselves, but overall I'm pretty pleased with the way they performed in the first half."
"He (Blackmon) played well. He's a great target, a big, physical receiver. He showed you what he can do after the ball is in his hands. He's going to play a huge role on this offense."
STAT OF THE GAME
When Gabbert completed a 16-yard touchdown pass to reserve tight end Clohery, he was 10 of 11 for 90 yards and two touchdowns. He finished the game having completed 13 of 16 passes for 112 yards and two touchdowns. He also finished with a passer rating of 135.4. In two preseason games, he now has completed 18 of 26 passes for 212 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions.
OFFENSIVELY . . .
The Jaguars did what they wanted offensively, and it would be hard to imagine a better start for the first-team offense. A week after starting the preseason opener with an 89-yard touchdown drive, the Jaguars on Friday moved 80 yards for a touchdown on their first possession, then followed that with a 66-yard touchdown drive in the second quarter. Running back Rashad Jennings rushed for 62 yards on 11 first-half carries and backup Montell Owens rushed for 41 yards on six first-half carries.
DEFENSIVELY . . .
The Jaguars gave up some yards in the passing game, but when the first half finished, they had allowed quarterback Drew Brees and a very good offense just 10 points. That's what you have to do against New Orleans. With Brees and their quick-drop passing offense, they are going to get yards. You have to withstand big plays and limit touchdowns. The Jaguars did a decent job of this, and despite Brees passing for 133 yards the Jaguars led 17-10 at halftime. Playing without Rashean Mathis, Derek Cox and Daryl Smith, they'll take that.
If you were concerned with the final score, which the Jaguars were, the turning point came on the game's final drive. The Saints had taken the lead with just under two minutes remaining and the Jaguars faced 4th-and-11 on their 37 with 0:56 remaining. Palmer threw to tight end Matt Veldman, and Saints safety Isa Abdul Quddus was called for a 31-yard pass interference penalty. That gave the Jaguars 1st-and-10 at the Saints 32. A pass interference penalty on cornerback Cord Parks four plays later gave Jacksonville 1st-and-goal at the 6 with 0:32 remaining.
We'll get into the debut of Justin Blackmon a lot in the editorial, but since that piece will lean toward the big picture, let's take this quick take to look at one particular play. Many people may remember the early touchdown pass from Gabbert to Blackmon, and that was impressive, but what I'll remember most is a play in the second quarter. On the play, Gabbert threw high to Blackmon, who was well covered. Blackmon didn't exactly have to reach full-extended, but the defender – cornerback Corey White -- was right on him with a hand waving in front of him when the ball arrived. Blackmon plucked the ball easily from the air, and turned a difficult catch into a nine-yard first down. We saw all week in practice that Blackmon's hands were different than most receivers. That play showed it, as did most of the half.
Jaguars running back Keith Toston sustained a hamstring injury in the third quarter and did not return.
*The Jaguars were without 12 players because of injury entering the game: cornerback Derek Cox (hamstring), cornerback Rashean Mathis (knee), cornerback Ashton Youboty (knee), guard Will Rackley (ankle), cornerback Leigh Torrence (concussion program), left tackle Eugene Monroe (concussion program), fullback Brock Bolen (knee), center John Estes (knee), guard Jason Spitz (foot), tight end Zach Miller (pec), linebacker Daryl Smith (groin) and defensive end Austen Lane (foot).
*With Monroe out, right tackle Cameron Bradfield moved to left tackle and Guy Whimper started at right tackle.
*Defensive end Andre Branch was impressive early, finishing with a half a sack and a quarterback hurry. Defensive end Jeremy Mincey had a sack and a half and a forced fumble.
*Palmer on Elliott: "We've seen it in practice every day. We saw it in the scrimmage. We've been waiting for him to step up and get a ball thrown to him. I have as much trust in Kevin Elliott and (tight end) Matt Veldman as I do in anybody. It's easy to make plays at the end of games when you have guys making plays for you."
*Elliott's first NFL touchdown came on the rookie from Florida A&M's first NFL catch. "I take that approach every day – I have to do something to make the coaches keep me another day."
The Jaguars have Saturday off and will return to practice at the Florida Blue Health and Wellness Practice Fields Sunday at 1:50. They play the Baltimore Ravens in Baltimore Thursday.
END GAME Consider this game an all-around success for the Jaguars. Not only did they get the start offensively they wanted, they finished it off with a second consecutive come-from-behind victory. The Jaguars wanted to maintain momentum built in training camp and the preseason opener. They did it.