CHICAGO—Nobody had an answer for what was wrong with the passing game, but there's no denying the depth of its decline: With 18 seconds remaining to be played in the first half of Sunday's 23-10 loss at Soldier Field, quarterback David Garrard had a passer rating of 0.0. Now that's cold.
A short completion and a Hail Mary incompletion shot Garrard's rating up to 7.6 by the end of the half, but not one of Garrard's four completions had gone to a receiver. All four were to running back Maurice Jones-Drew.
"I'm going to have to take a good, hard look at it. I don't have an answer right now. I don't know that I could explain what I'm seeing," coach Jack Del Rio said when asked what was wrong with the passing game.
Was it a case of the wide receivers not getting open or was it Garrard not seeing them when they were open?
"We weren't able to generate a whole lot offensively," Del Rio said, obviously not willing to assign specific blame to his quarterback or his receivers.
At some point, either before this season ends or during the offseason, blame will have to be assigned. A lack of big plays in the passing game early in the season has now become of lack of any kind of plays late in the season. Against a Bears defense that was 29th in the league in pass-defense heading into Sunday's game, Jaguars wide receivers combined for a mere seven catches for 72 yards and no touchdowns. That's cold, too.
"There's no one person to blame. They did a good job of getting their hands up in the passing lanes," Garrard said of the Bears' defensive linemen, who batted down three of Garrard's pass attempts. "I did have guys open and didn't make the throws," he added.
Garrard was merely taking the high road. It's what NFL quarterbacks are expected to do. Finger-pointing is a no-no. Accepting blame is part of the job description, so the question remains: Has Garrard lost the magic touch that he showed last year and on which so much hope was built for this season? Or does he lack the receivers to be an effective passer?
That's a question that must be answered before another season begins because, simply put, you can not win in the NFL today if you are afraid to throw the ball, and it certainly appeared in the first half that the Jaguars were afraid to put the ball in the air.
The Jaguars had three consecutive three-and-out possessions in the first half. In the final two of those possessions, which began deep in Jaguars territory, the Jaguars ran the ball six consecutive times.
"I was talking to our coaches and saying we need to throw the ball. It always comes to a point that you'll have to throw the ball if you're behind," Garrard said.
That's the problem; the Jaguars have been facing an early deficit too often. The Jaguars have trailed their opponents after a quarter of play in the last eight games and in 11 of the last 13. That's not Jaguars football because that puts them in a must-pass mode and throwing the football is not what the Jaguars do best.
"We've got to find a way not to get down so we can stay complete," Jones-Drew said.
Yeah, either find a way not to fall behind, or find a way to throw the ball more successfully.