Maurice Jones-Drew made his point, and while it came with the expected smile that made it no less pointed.
The scene was the post-game interview room at EverBank Field. Following a 23-10 loss to the New Orleans Saints Sunday afternoon, the Jaguars' two-time Pro Bowl running back fielded questions about rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert. The theme varied, but as it trended toward Gabbert's difficult second half, Jones-Drew did what he could to break the pattern.
He talked of Gabbert's strengths, his confidence, his leadership, his talent. He talked of Gabbert's approach in the film room, about needing to get a victory for a rookie quarterback.
His basic message:
The things that went wrong Sunday? The loss? The stalled drives and lost opportunities?
Blame a lot of things, but don't blame Gabbert.
"I don't want you guys to pick at Blaine," Jones-Drew said. "I understand he didn't do so well in the second half, but to lead our offense the way he did on some of those drives, that was a great thing for us.
"He's doing a great job for us. Leave him alone."
Jones-Drew said it smiling, and this was no blast at the media. Nor was it a stereotypical picture of post-game frustration, though the third consecutive loss after a season-opening victory certainly produced the expected and appropriate post-game disappointment.
But it was indeed a message: Leave our quarterback alone. Leave my quarterback alone.
If I'm a Jaguars fan, I like hearing those words. Actually, I like hearing them a lot.
Here's where we are after four weeks, and short-term, it's not pretty: The Jaguars are 1-3, and have lost three consecutive games. They have made strides defensively, but it's tough to talk to anyone around the Jaguars about offense without hearing the word frustration. The Jaguars offensively did what Head Coach Jack Del Rio promised Sunday. They threw – seven consecutive times to start the game, 42 times in all – and still, the end result on this sun-splashed Sunday was the same as last week's rain-soaked disappointment in Carolina.
Ten points, a lot of missed chances, and a loss.
Is the offensive frustration likely to end? Yes. Will it end this season? That's a real possibility, too. Will it happen in time to negotiate the rest of a difficult October and claw into playoff contention?
We'll see, but whatever happens, the bigger picture we're seeing around the Jaguars is one of seismic change. Philosophical change. Long-term change. Important change. And it's more than that.
It's hope, because despite the current struggles and frustration, that long-term, philosophical change is at the quarterback position. It's becoming Gabbert's team. Jones-Drew defending the quarterback isn't what makes that so, but he's the team's best player and unquestioned leader. That he supports and is doing what he can to nurture Gabbert is nothing but a good sign for the organization.
Jones-Drew could have come into the post-game situation pouting Sunday. He ran three times for no yards in the first half. This is a prideful guy. He could have moped. Instead, he did quite the opposite. He blamed himself for a dropped pass on the Jaguars' first drive.
"I'm the one that killed that drive," Jones-Drew said.
More than carries Sunday, Jones-Drew was upset about the loss, and through all of that, he was concerned about making sure anyone who would listen realized that Gabbert is absolutely-no-question-whatever-happened-in-the-second half now the guy.
"He's growing up, doing a great job for us," Jones-Drew said.
Gabbert wasn't perfect Sunday. He wasn't close. At times in the second half, he was decidedly imperfect. He played like a rookie with meteoric talent in the first half, completing 12 of 24 passes for 165 yards and throwing several passes that few quarterbacks can throw.
The second half? Well, there was a reason Jones-Drew was fielding those questions: 4 of 18, 27 yards, one interception.
That's what you get from a rookie quarterback. If the errors came without the other stuff, there might be worry, but the other stuff was oh-so-good.
The touchdownpass to Zach Miller? A first-down producing throw to Marcedes Lewis in the first half? Those are the passes that big-time quarterbacks can make.
You also might be concerned if you didn't hear things about work ethic, and dedication, but you do hear those things, and that's what you have to hear about a rookie quarterback.
You also hear things like what Del Rio said after the loss Sunday, that despite the loss the idea now – for the short- and long-term future – is to grow the offense around Gabbert.
"There are some good, solid things and there are some signs of life with how Blaine can throw it," Del Rio said, closing a press conference with something he had said minutes earlier without prompting. "We are going to have to run routes and catch it at a higher efficiency level than what we have seen to start the first quarter (of the season).
"We can grow those things around a talented young player and that is what we're going to do."
While Del Rio didn't join Jones-Drew in asking the media to leave Gabbert alone, his message was just as clear as that of Jones-Drew. Gabbert's the guy, for better or worse. This won't be the end of the aggressiveness, nor should it be. The future is now, and the future will be different. The Jaguars are changing, week by week, steadily, but very surely.
And even with a rough second half – and even with as many downs as ups likely for the foreseeable future – there remain indications that in the that in the long run change won't be a very good thing.