HOUSTON, Tex. – Blaine Gabbert put it simply, succinctly.
In the wake of the Jaguars' 24-14 loss to the Houston Texans Sunday – a game that began with talk of inching into the playoff chase and ended with disappointment -- the Jaguars' rookie quarterback was asked about growing pains and the struggles of a first-year player.
Gabbert wanted none of it.
"That's just an excuse people use," Gabbert said after completing 10 of 30 passes for 97 yards and a touchdown with two interceptions for a season-low 26.7 passer rating. "We expect to come in and succeed. That's an excuse, and I don't like to use an excuse.
"Those are for weak people."
Such was the mood in the Jaguars' locker room Sunday after a loss on Battle Red Day at Reliant Stadium. This was no time for talk. No time for analysis.
The Jaguars entered the game two games behind the Houston Texans, and despite a solid performance defensively – and despite regaining momentum during the game after yet another rocky start – they leave it three games out of first place in the AFC South.
"They earned it today," Jaguars Head Coach Jack Del Rio said. "We made too many mistakes, so they get to celebrate."
The momentum of a 12-7 victory over Baltimore Monday? Defensive tackle Terrance Knighton said that was gone, too.
"It's a step back," Knighton said. "Any time you lose, it's a step back."
The Jaguars, after a five-game losing streak, had beaten Baltimore Monday and entered the Texans game needing a victory to move to within a game of the Texans in the AFC South entering the bye week. For a half and into the third quarter, it looked as though that was a possibility.
Not that it was easy early on.
The Texans, who entered the game ranked in the Top 10 in the NFL in total offense and defense, controlled the momentum early, dominating statistically and moving easily on their first possession. A 12-play, 80-yard drive used the first six minutes, 39 seconds, and when Texans quarterback Matt Schaub scrambled for a 2-yard touchdown, the Texans led, 7-0.
It was the fourth time in five games and the fifth time in seven games the Jaguars had allowed a touchdown on the opponents' opening possession.
The Jaguars' defense spent the rest of the first half keeping the game close, and with six and a half minutes remaining in the half, linebacker Clint Session blitzed and forced a fumble by Schaub. Defensive end Matt Roth recovered and pitched it to defensive tackle Terrance Knighton, who pitched it to Session, who completed the 22-yard return to the Texans 8.
The Jaguars offense managed 113 first-half yards, but eight of those came after Session's sack, and Gabbert's 5-yard pass to wide receiver Jason Hill – the veteran wide receiver's third touchdown reception of the season – made it 7-7.
One possession later, the Jaguars drove to the Texans 23, but defensive end Conner Barwin tipped Gabbert's pass to Jaguars running back Deji Karim and linebacker Brian Cushing intercepted.
"That's 100 percent my fault," Gabbert said, adding, "Tips are going to happen, but we've got to make the throws."
Said Del Rio, "You've got to get at least three points there. That's how you jump on somebody. It was all there."
With the Jaguars' offense no more effective in the second half, the Texans took early control. A seven-yard touchdown pass from Schaub to tight end Joel Dreessen made it 14-7, Texans, and with 12:41 remaining in the fourth quarter, running back Arian Foster's 4-yard run made it 21-7, Houston.
Still, the Jaguars had a chance in the fourth quarter – and again the opportunity came from the defense.
First, safety Dawan Landry stripped the ball from Texans running back Ben Tate. Safety Dwight Lowery recovered, and after a 15-yard penalty on the Texans and a 23-yard return, the Jaguars had 1st-and-10 at the 26.
Seven plays later, Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew's two-yard touchdown run made it 21-14 with 5:15 remaining, and the Jaguars needed a stop to regain possession with a chance to tie.
The stop never came. On third-and-5 from the 25 with 3:48 remaining, Schaub found tight end Owen Daniels for a 30-yard gain, and the Jaguars never regained possession until they trailed 24-14 after Neil Racker's 39-yard field goal with :18 remaining.
"There were some good things on defense, but there were some things that got away from us for sure," Del Rio said.
The Texans finished with a 358-174 advantage in total yards, and had 20 first downs to 13 for the Jaguars.
"As a football team we are battling hard," Del Rio said. "We are working our butts off. I'd sure like to have a little more validation for the type of effort we have put forth. We are where we are. This is what we've earned at this point in the year.
"We're disappointed to have a chance to pull to within one game of these guys and to have a chance to go into the bye enjoying things, but we didn't get that done."
*Gabbert sustained bruised ribs in the first half and missed three plays, but returned on the ensuing series. "It's our job to be out on the field," Gabbert said. "I took a quick breather and I was back out there. You're going to get dinged in a football game, bu t it's our job to be out on the field."
*Jones-Drew rushed for a season-low 63 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries. He now has 740 yards rushing, the most in franchise history through eight games,.
*Safety Dwight Lowery said he mistimed his jump on a potential interception in the end zone in the third quarter. On the play, defensive tackle Tyson Alualu hit Schaub's arm as he was passing and that caused the ball to hang in the air. "If he throws the ball on a laser, it's an interception," Lowery said. Instead, the seven-yard touchdown to Dreessen gave the Texans a seven-point lead.