No Derek Cox. No Rashean Mathis. No Daryl Smith.
The Jaguars entered Sunday's game against the Green Bay Packers without all three of those players, a list that included their two starting cornerbacks. Facing Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers, it seemed a major disadvantage.
And still, the Jaguars played perhaps their best defensive game of the season.
"I thought we played well," Jaguars Head Coach Mike Mularkey said. "We were talking from the beginning about making them earn everything they were going to make. . . .We made them drive down the field to score touchdowns."
The Jaguars registered two sacks, and forced a momentum-changing turnover, holding the Packers to 238 yards total offense in a 24-15 Packers victory at Lambeau Field.
Rodgers completed 22 of 35 passes for 186 yards and two touchdowns against a secondary without three starters.
"You've got to give them credit," Rodgers said. "They played their scheme pretty well. They brought pressure probably twice all game and decided to play a lot of combo coverage. That was what they wanted to do, get after us with their four-man pass rush and stop the run with six in the box.
"I think mission accomplished for them."
Will Middleton and Aaron Ross started at corner in place of Cox (back) and Mathis (groin), each of whom were ruled out Sunday morning. Prosinski has started the last two weeks in place of starter Dwight Lowery (ankle).
Not only did rookie defensive end Andre Branch register a sack/fumble – his first career sack – that he recovered, defensive end Jeremy Mincey registered a sack for a second consecutive game,
"All it is is a mindset," Mincey said of the Jaguars' pass rush, which has four sacks in the last two games after three in the first five. "We have all the ability. All we have to do is work together and understand what's going on. Now, we've been together long enough to know what's going on.
"Now, we understand each other. Now, we're rushing together. Now, it's pressure over and over and over."
The Jaguars also were playing without Smith, the team's all-time tackles leader who was placed on injured reserve Thursday with a groin injury.
PLAY OF THE GAME
Jaguars quarterback Blaine Gabbert may have had more impressive throws on Sunday than in any game in his two-year career, but the lone touchdown came on one of his shortest throws. The Jaguars faced 2nd-and-goal from the 1 with 21 seconds remaining in the first half five plays after Branch's sack/fumble/fumble recovery on Rodgers. Gabbert, facing a rush, threw a pass to offensive tackle Guy Whimper, who had reported as eligible on the play. Because of the rush, Gabbert had to throw a bit earlier than he wanted, so he threw a bit softer than usual. Whimper turned in time and made a diving catch that pulled the Jaguars to within two, 14-12, at halftime.
The Jaguars started solidly offensively and defensively, outgaining the Packers 102-71 in the first quarter. The Jaguars drove 46 yards on their second possession, settling for a 38-yard field goal by Josh Scobee. The Packers' most impressive drive of the first half gave them a 7-0 lead when Rodgers threw five yards to Randall Cobb for a 7-3 lead with 2:54 remaining. Gabbert finished the quarter 6 of 8 for 75 yards.
The Jaguars continued to dominate statistically, finishing the half with a 233-91 advantage in total yards. Green Bay led at the half, but the Packers' only scoring came when Dezman Moses recovered a blocked punt in the end zone with 8:45 remaining in the half. That gave Green Bay a 14-3 lead, but the Jaguars inched back into the game before halftime with a 22-yard field goal by Scobee. That made it 14-6 with 1:03 remaining, and after a sack/fumble by Branch, Gabbert threw a 1-yard pass to Whimper to make it 14-12, Packers, at halftime.
The Jaguars struggled offensively out of halftime, registering no first downs and minus-1 yards in the quarter. The defense did a remarkable job keeping the Jaguars in the game considering the circumstance, and entering the fourth quarter, it remained a two-point game.
The Packers stretched the lead to 21-12 early in the fourth quarter when Rodgers passed four yards to Donald Driver, but the Jaguars responded with a 66-yard, 11-play drive to make it 21-15. The Jaguars then forced a three-and-out, but after driving to the 50, failed to convert a first down. The Packers drove 49 yards for the game-clinching field goal.
"There are some positives we can take from this game, playing in a tough environment. Some guys stepped up and made some plays for us today including our quarterback. We still have things to clean up, but I thought there was progress."
"We were just trying to make some plays. We had some great calls. It just came down to executing. We executed on some and didn't execute on others."
CENTER BRAD MEESTER SAYS
"We just have to find a way to finish drives. There is just no other way to explain it. Somehow, we have to find a way to get in the end zone. That's the key."
STAT OF THE GAME
Not only did Gabbert finish with a career-high 303 yards passing, the Jaguars' two starting wide receivers had the biggest games of their careers. Cecil Shorts had eight receptions for 116 yards and rookie wide receiver Justin Blackmon had four receptions for 67 yards.
OFFENSIVELY . . .
Gabbert had the first 300-yard passing game of his career, and the Jaguars finished with a solid 341 yards total offense. The third-down efficiency could still improve, with the Jaguars converting 5 of 16 third downs after converting just 1 of 15 last week. Running back Rashad Jennings was effective out of the backfield, catching six passes for 56 yards. Jennings also rushed for 59 yards on 17 carries starting in place of Maurice Jones-Drew (foot).
DEFENSIVELY . . .
The Jaguars turned in perhaps their best defensive game of the season. With the Packers' receiving corps, a secondary that was playing without its best player – Cox – was very good in coverage much of the game and the pass rush was effective for a second consecutive week. The Jaguars held the Packers to 238 yards and 20 first downs.
This came in the third quarter, and in a sense, it was the entire third quarter. The Jaguars' defense held the Packers scoreless in the period, and throughout the quarter, the Jaguars had possessions with a chance to take the lead. They never took advantage, losing one yard on three possessions, and allowing the Packers to take a two-score lead with a touchdown early in the fourth quarter.
Consider this a step forward for Gabbert, and at the same time, progress must still be made. Gabbert, playing with an injury to his non-throwing shoulder, had the best statistical game of his career, and there were significant stretches of this game in which he looked very good. Package that with an impressive quarter and a half before he got injured in Oakland last week, and it's fair to call this the best stretch of Gabbert's career. You'd still like to see more consistency, and there was a period on Sunday in the third quarter in which the offense failed to take advantage when the Jaguars had the opportunity to take control of the game, but if you're a glass-half full onlooker, this was a step forward for the second-year quarterback.
Safety Chris Harris had the wind knocked out of him early, but returned.
*Kicker Josh Scobee's three field goals Sunday gave him 14 consecutive to start this season, and he has converted 20 consecutive dating to last season. The 20 field goals without a miss ties the franchise record held by Mike Hollis.
*Mularkey in his post-game press conference twice opted to not comment on calls made by the officials, saying he didn't want to get fined. "I'd like to see some of those go the other way, but that happens when you're not winning games," he said. Asked specifically about a late interference on cornerback Will Middleton, Mularkey said, "I'm going to stay away, to be honest with you."
*Mularkey said he went against conventional wisdom by going for a two-point conversion late in the first half for a simple reason: he wanted to tie the game. The Jaguars went for two after a late first-half touchdown, but Gabbert threw behind wide receiver Justin Blackmon and the pass was incomplete, allowing the Packers to lead at halftime, 14-12. "I went against the rules, to go for two early," Mularkey said. "I wanted to score points. I wanted to into the halftime tied. I know it goes against all the rules in people's statistical books, but at some point we had to go for two. I wanted to go into halftime with our guys tied."
*A key play came in the second quarter, when Davon House blocked a punt by Anger and Moses recovered for a Green Bay touchdown. The play gave the Packers a 14-3 lead. Mularkey took responsibility for the punt, and said the Jaguars lined up too slow, allowing House to approach too closely before the snap. "I'll have to find that out (why the tempo was slow), but it shouldn't be," Mularkey said. "It's nobody's fault but mine. That's us. We have to have a high tempo. That's me. You can snap it before they come in from outside."
The Jaguars play host to the Detroit Lions Sunday.
If the record was better, this one would be perceived as a step forward. The Jaguars' defense played well, and even though the Packers' offense was missing significant weapons because of injury, credit the Jaguars for covering the Packers' receivers despite the absence of cornerback Derek Cox. Gabbert also looked better than he has in any of his previous 19 starts. No one wants to consider a loss a positive, but in the context of the Jaguars' season, good things indeed happened Sunday.