The problem was the end result . . .
A little too familiar.
Rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert threw early and often, and the Jaguars' defense scrapped and clawed throughout much of a picturesque, perfect afternoon. But with the Jaguars' suddenly attacking, aggressive offense unable to generate touchdowns, the New Orleans Saints pulled away for a 23-10 victory at EverBank Field Sunday.
Afterward, there was talk of positives – of Gabbert's improvement, of a bright long-term outlook, and of a defense that played well in flashes.
But mostly, there was the reality that in the NFL flashes aren't the priority.
"It just wasn't enough," Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio said.
That was the consensus in the Jaguars' locker room. Yes, the Jaguars (1-3) were as aggressive as Del Rio had promised throughout the week, with Gabbert passing on the first seven plays from scrimmage and completing 12 of 24 passes for 165 yards and a touchdown in the first half.
And yes, there were bright spots for the defense, which despite allowing 503 total yards and 30 first downs also forced two turnovers and held the Saints 12 points below their season average.
But those positives didn't change the outcome.
And they sure didn't make for post-game satisfaction.
"We didn't win," Jaguars cornerback Rashean Mathis said, when asked if he believed the Jaguars' defense had played well enough to win. "If we had won, then we would have played well enough to win. We're not satisfied with the results."
Linebacker Daryl Smith called the effort "definitely not good enough."
"We lost," he said. "No matter what happened in the game – whether we played good or not – we ended up with an 'L.' You can't take anything away from the Saints. We have to tip our hats to them. They put the 'L' on us.''
For part of the first half, it seemed that could possibly be different. Despite the Saints (3-1) dominating early with touchdown drives of 62 and 96 yards, the Jaguars stayed close. They trailed 14-0 after quarterback Drew Brees' 1-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jimmy Graham (10 catches, 132 yards, one touchdown), but followed that with their most impressive possession since the first drive of the regular-season opener.
Taking possession on their 20, the Jaguars drove 80 yards in 12 plays, with Gabbert – making his second NFL start – completing of five of eight passes for 70 yards and capping the drive with a perfect pass over the middle for a 14-yard touchdown to tight end Zach Miller.
The Jaguars, who allowed 273 first-half yards after not allowing 300 yards of total offense in any of the first three games, pushed closer just before halftime. Smith intercepted Brees (351 yards, one touchdown, two interceptions) and returned it to the Saints 13.
Gabbert threw incomplete three times, and kicker Josh Scobee's field goal made it 14-10, Saints.
"We had some opportunities today that just slipped," Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew said after rushing for 84 yards on 11 carries – with all 84 of the yards coming on eight second-half carries. "I think we just need to execute a little better."
Del Rio, too, afterward bemoaned missed opportunities.
"I thought we threw the ball in the first half fairly well," Del Rio said. "We ran it OK in the second, got Mo more involved in the second half. We just weren't able to make enough plays to get in the end zone as much as we need to."
The second half was about the Saints pulling steadily away, and about Gabbert struggling more than he did in the first.
New Orleans pushed the lead to 17-10 with a 38-yard field goal by John Kasay, after which Gabbert threw into coverage for an interception by cornerback Patrick Robinson. That led to a 39-yard field goal by Kasay that made it 20-10.
Gabbert finished the second half 4 of 18 for 31 yards, and for the game completed 16 of 42 passes for 196 yards and a touchdown with an interception. The Saints finished with 503 total yards to 274 for the Jaguars and New Orleans had a 30-15 advantage in first downs.
"We've just got to keep at it," said Jaguars wide receiver Mike Thomas, who caught five passes for 73 yards and a season-best 47-yard reception. I can sit here and point at a lot of different things, the timing and this and that, but the bottom line is we didn't get it done again.
"We'll just keep at it and trying to bang it out and keep getting better."
The Jaguars had two chances deep in Saints territory in the fourth quarter, trailing 23-10, but on 4th-and-2 from the Saints 20 Gabbert overthrew tight end Marcedes Lewis – "I've got to give him a chance," Gabbert said. On the next series, the Jaguars reached the New Orleans 21 and Gabbert threw incomplete to rookie wide receiver Cecil Shorts.
The Saints didn't score after the first drive of the fourth quarter, but they didn't need to, and afterward, despite the promised change in approach, Del Rio and the Jaguars were doing what they had done the previous two weeks – talking about a loss, and about how to change momentum.
"I like this group of guys," Del Rio said. "I don't like how this first quarter (of the season) went at all. We're averaging just under 10 points a game scoring and that's not going to get it done for you. We are going to have to generate more offense. We are going to have to do a better job with special teams, helping that happen for us. I continue to see opportunities to be even better."
Said running back Deji Karim, "Our sense of urgency is we want to win right now. There's no waiting on anything. We're going to go get it now. We've got a lot of enthusiasm."