The Jaguars opened the Mike Mularkey era with a victory Friday.
Blaine Gabbert threw an early touchdown pass to Cecil Shorts, and the Jaguars rallied from a 17-point first-half deficit for a 32-31 victory over the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants in the 2012 preseason opener at EverBank Field Friday.
"That will go a long way – that win," Mularkey said following his first game as the Jaguars' head coach. "Again – first preseason game, but very proud of them. Can't say enough."
The Jaguars trailed 24-7 after a 5-yard touchdown pass from Giants backup quarterback David Carr to wide receiver Isaiah Stanback 2:40 before halftime. A muffed punt set up a 2-yard touchdown pass from Jaguars backup quarterback Chad Henne to reserve wide receiver Brian Robiskie with 24 seconds remaining in the half.
The Jaguars spent the second half cutting into the lead, then took their first lead since the first quarter when reserve running back Keith Toston ran 9 yards for a touchdown with two minutes remaining.
A two-point conversion pass from reserve quarterback Jordan Palmer to rookie free agent tight end Matt Veldman gave the Jaguars the final margin of victory.
"That's how we're supposed to finish," said running back Rashad Jennings, who rushed for a game-high 56 yards on 12 carries. "We got a nice taste in our mouth with a victory."
PLAY OF THE GAME
For the Jaguars, it was a first-quarter touchdown pass that ended a touchdown drive on their first series. It wasn't the most spectacular of plays, but when Gabbert – the Jaguars' second-year quarterback – completed an 8-yard fade pass in the left rear corner of the end zone to Shorts, it meant a successful end to what for the preseason was a pretty important drive. Shorts and Gabbert each struggled as rookies last season, and while they had played well in training camp, making a play to complete a drive in the preseason opener had to help the pair's confidence.
The Jaguars trailed 10-7 at the end of the first quarter. Gabbert and the Jaguars looked good early, taking a 7-0 lead with the touchdown pass to Shorts, then held a 7-3 lead after a 34-yard field goal by Giants kicker Lawrence Tynes. Shorts then fumbled after a 10-yard run on a reverse, and D.J. Ware's 2-yard run five plays later capped a 29-yard drive to make it 10-7.
Turnovers and mistakes hurt the Jaguars here. Gabbert fumbled and the Giants recovered after an early sack, and Carr's 12-yard pass to tight end Martellus Bennett pushed the Giants' lead to 17-7. New York then drove 48 yards on eight plays, with Carr throwing five yards to wide receiver Stanback for a 24-7 lead. The Jaguars forced a turnover of their own late in the half, when safety Antwon Blake recovered a muffed punt at the Giants two. Backup quarterback Chad Henne threw two yards to wide receiver Brian Robiskie to cut the lead to 10.
The Jaguars pushed back into the game with a 13-play, 85-yard drive that ended with a 7-yard run by running back Montell Owens, who ran over safety Stevie Brown at the goal line. The Jaguars outgained the Giants 112-44 in the quarter. Quarterback Jordan Palmer and Robiskie combined for three pass plays for 44 yards, and Mike Thomas caught a 35-yard pass.
The Giants pushed the lead back to 10 on their first possession of the quarter before the Jaguars cut into it with a 29-yard field goal by Josh Scobee. That made it 31-24 when the Jaguars regained possession at their 36 with 4:47 remaining. Keith Toston set up his own 9-yard run with a 32-yarder to the Giants 32 to start the series, then Palmer found Veldman wide open in the back of the end zone for the game-winning conversion. The Giants' final drive ended when rookie Ryan Davis sacked reserve quarterback Ryan Perilloux.
"I was proud of those guys (for the first drive). There's a lot of pressure on Blaine to come out there and to go 90 yards making really good third down throws. Protection was good. It was very crisp. There is something. There is life right there that we can build off definitely."
"It was great to start fast. We wished we could have continued that momentum the next couple of drives but for the most part we did some really positive things. We are going to correct our mistakes on film when we come in tomorrow."
STAT OF THE GAME
The Jaguars outgained the Giants, 313-258 and had a 34:03-25:57 time-of-possession advantage. Mularkey said he particularly liked the extended drive by the offense to start the game, a possession on which the Jaguars converted four third downs on the drive.
OFFENSIVELY . . .
The Jaguars got what they wanted early with an impressive 13-play, 89-yard drive that ended with the touchdown pass to Shorts. Gabbert on that drive completed 4 of 7 passes for 55 yards and the touchdown. A turnover ended the next drive, and Gabbert completed 1 of 3 passes on his third and final drive to finish 5 of 10 for 62 yards and a 102.9 passer rating. Henne replaced Gabbert, and as was the case with the starters in the game, Henne was under too much pressure too often. The line, as was the case last year, run-blocked well early. Thomas also was impressive throughout. After a rough camp at times, he caught three passes for 54 yards. Robiskie also played well, catching seven passes for 72 yards.
DEFENSIVELY . . .
Jaguars coaches won't likely be thrilled with the result, but the defense was put in some bad spots early and allowed just 258 total yards. The Jaguars registered six sacks, though the front-line pass rush could have gotten better pressure early. The Jaguars held the Giants to 3 of 12 on third downs. The Giants' first 10 points came on drives of 35 and 29 yards, and Mularkey almost certainly will spend Sunday emphasizing not making mistakes to give opponents field position.
The Jaguars trailed by seven late, and though it was a preseason game, it was clear the fans and players wanted a victory. On 1st-and-10 from the Jaguars 36, Toston broke a 32-yard run that set up his own touchdown and gave the Jaguars momentum and the lead.
No one's going to say the Jaguars don't need Maurice Jones-Drew, but the offensive line and running backs who are in camp were confident they could run with or without the three-time Pro Bowl selection. They showed last night that's true. The Jaguars rushed for 156 yards on 31 carries, with Jennings running for 56 yards on 12 first-half carries. "Rashad has run the ball well," Mularkey said. "He's going to move the pile. He's going to make yards when they're not there."
Jaguars reserve center John Estes, who started in place of Brad Meester, left the game with a knee injury. He was carried from the field, and did not return. Starting cornerback Derek Cox left the game on the first series with a calf injury.
*Wide receiver Justin Blackmon, as expected, did not play after signing with the team Monday. Also out for the Jaguars were defensive tackle Tyson Alualu and cornerback Rashean Mathis, each of whom are returning from offseason knee surgeries. Other Jaguars out: offensive guard Will Rackley (ankle), safety Jeremiah Brown (concussion), tight end Zach Miller (pec), guard Jason Spitz (foot), defensive end Austen Lane (foot), linebacker Daryl Smith (groin), running back Richard Murphy (leg). Running back Maurice Jones-Drew continues to hold out and linebacker Clint Session (head) and defensive end John Chick (knee) remain on the Physically Unable to Perform list.
*Second-year veteran Cameron Bradfield started at right tackle, and played into the second half. The Jaguars want to see how Bradfield works at the position. He gave up an early pressure, but the team likes him and he could be in the mix to start at right tackle. The rest of the starting line was left tackle Eugene Monroe, left guard Eben Britton, Estes at center and Uche Nwaneri at right guard.
*With Mathis out, Aaron Ross started at cornerback and with Alualu out, D'Anthony Smith started alongside C.J. Mosley at defensive tackle.
*Thomas caught four passes for 89 yards, and his 29-yarder in the first quarter helped set up the game's first touchdown. "He showed up and made some plays for us," Mularkey said. "That changed momentum in games, when you're sitting over there."
The Jaguars have Saturday off and will return to practice at the Florida Blue Health and Wellness Practice Fields Sunday. They play the New Orleans Saints in New Orleans Friday.
Yes, it's just preseason, but Mularkey made it clear before the game he wanted to win. He made it clear afterward it mattered, and though it won't count in the standings this team fought to the end, and found a way to win. In a first game for a new head coach, and under a new owner, that's a whole lot better than the alternative.