So much for working his way back slowly.
Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew, a week after returning from a 38-day holdout, began the 2012 regular-season opener as a reserve, but finished a 26-23 overtime loss to the Minnesota Vikings Sunday as the feature back, finishing with 77 yards on 19 carries.
Jones-Drew said there was a time in the game when he was tired.
"There was one point where it was tough," Jones-Drew said, "but I worked in the offseason and during the holdout to be ready for anything. Once you catch your second wind, you forget about getting tired."
Jones-Drew said his teammates helped him throughout his first game back, often helping him up after runs.
"I can't say enough about the guys," he said.
Jones-Drew said he overcame early nerves and excitement.
"After that, it was just, 'Run the ball,' " said Jones-Drew, who has made the Pro Bowl each of the past three seasons and who led the NFL in rushing last season with a franchise-record 1,606 yards.
PLAY OF THE GAME
The Jaguars didn't make it hold up, but from Jacksonville's perspective, the play to remember came in the final 30 seconds. With the Jaguars trailing 20-15, they drove to the Vikings 39-yard line, where they faced 1st-and-10 with 27 seconds remaining. Gabbert, who was impressive throughout under a strong Vikings pass rush, found second-year wide receiver Cecil Shorts in single coverage down the right sideline. Shorts fought off a defender and made the catch as he fell to the ground and rolled into the end zone. The play gave the Jaguars a 21-20 lead with 20 seconds remaining, and rookie wide receiver Justin Blackmon's two-point conversion reception on the ensuing play made it 23-20, Jaguars. "I was excited," Jones-Drew said. "They (Shorts) and (Gabbert) have worked their butts off this offseason and it showed."
The Jaguars, after an early stop, took the lead with a 17-play, 77-yard drive that used 9:22 and ended with a 19-yard field goal by Josh Scobee. Gabbert went 4 of 8 for 52 yards and the Jaguars converted 4 of 5 third downs. The quarter ended with the Jaguars holding the Vikings scoreless on two drives and leading 3-0.
The Jaguars pushed the lead to two scores with their second impressive drive in the first three series. They opened the second quarter with an 11-play, 83-yard drive that included a 26-yard pass from Gabbert to Laurent Robinson and ended with a 1-yard touchdown pass from Gabbert to tight end Marcedes Lewis. The extra point was blocked, and when Vikings running back Adrian Peterson scored on a 2-yard run, the Jaguars entered halftime leading 9-7. The Jaguars at that time had outrushed the Vikings 67-39 and had 103 passing yards to 78 for the Vikings.
The Vikings turned a two-point halftime deficit into a two-point lead, taking the lead for the first time when Peterson capped a four-play, 44-yard drive with a two-yard touchdown run with 9:42 remaining in the third quarter. That drive was set up when Gabbert and center Brad Meester botched a snap. C.J. Mosley recovered a fumble by Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder to set up a 26-yard field goal by Scobee with 4:40 remaining in the quarter. That made it 14-12, Minnesota.
The game turned wild in the fourth quarter, particularly in the final seconds. The Jaguars trailed 20-15 with 27 seconds remaining, then Gabbert found Shorts for the go-ahead touchdown. A short kickoff and two quick passes set up a 55-yard game-tying field goal with no time remaining by Blair Walsh.
The Vikings drove 55 yards on eight plays in overtime, with Walsh's 38-yard field goal giving them a 26-23 lead with 11:06 remaining. The Jaguars did not produce a first down on the ensuing series.
"I thought he (Jones-Drew) did well. I was proud of the way he picked up the system."
"That (throwing under pressure) is part of the deal. They're going to bring pressure. You've got to get the ball out and make completions."
"We do a lot of things with personnel, formations. We have a lot of guys in position to make plays. We're using everyone. It's not just around one guy. That spreads the defense out."
"At the end of the day, they made one more play than we did. We just have to continue to work."
STAT OF THE GAME
The Jaguars had 20 first downs and 362 yards total offense, but managed just 13 points on three trips into the red zone. A 17-play, 77-yard drive on the game's opening possession ended in a 19-yard field goal by Scobee. "The higher percentage of touchdowns you score in the red zone, the more games you win," Gabbert said. "You can't settle for a field goal when you're on the one, two or three yard line."
OFFENSIVELY . . .
The Jaguars started well offensively, with two extended drives on their first three series. Gabbert looked confident early, and finished the first half 9-of-16 passing for 103 yards with a touchdown. The Jaguars sputtered a bit after that, and the failure to convert two red-zone drives – one in the first quarter and one in the third – hurt. Credit the offense for coming up with a clutch drive late in the game, with Gabbert finding single-coverage in the final seconds to find Shorts for a 39-yard go-ahead touchdown.
DEFENSIVELY . . .
The Jaguars stuffed the Vikings and Peterson early, but when Minnesota got wide receiver Percy Harvin involved in the second quarter, the Vikings gained traction and got momentum. Ponder seemed to gain confidence in the second half, but the defense turned in a critical goal-line stand early in the fourth quarter. The defense also set up three points when defensive tackle Terrance Knighton sacked Ponder and forced a fumble that Mosley recovered at the Vikings 16 midway through the third quarter. The defense, however, allowed the Vikings to drive 32 yards for a game-tying field goal in the final 20 seconds, then allowed a go-ahead field goal drive in overtime.
In this one, finding the turning point was easy. The Jaguars led 23-20 with 20 seconds remaining when Scobee's bouncing kick stopped bouncing around the 12-yard line. Vikings fullback Mark Asiata returned the kick to the 31 with 14 seconds remaining. That gave the Vikings just enough time for Ponder to throw 26 yards to Devin Aromashodu and after a timeout, Ponder threw six yards to Kyle Rudolph, who was pushed out of bounds at the 37 with :02 remaining. "There's no perfect coverage," Jaguars defensive coordinator Mel Tucker said. "It's just a matter of execution on both sides of the ball." Walsh's 55-yard field goal tied it at 23-23 with :00 on the clock.
This one hurt. No question. And no question the defensive players are right when they say no way should the Jaguars have lost a 23-20 lead with 20 seconds remaining. But for the long-term growth of the franchise, there were good signs that shouldn't get completely lost in the disappointment. Gabbert looked very poised and had a career-high 260 yards. He also stayed composed at the end of the game and led a dramatic two-minute drill. There are also offensive weapons developing, with Shorts showing he can contribute and Lewis reemerging as a weapon. Wide receiver Laurent Robinson also showed he can be productive after struggling at times in the preseason. The Jaguars will face challenges in the coming weeks and days. The offensive line is getting thinner and the secondary has some issues that need to get fixed, but the offense is coming together and showing the right signs in areas that were serious questions two months ago.
Jaguars guard Eben Britton left the game at halftime with an ankle injury and did not return, while running back Rashad Jennings left with a knee injury and did not return. Guard Uche Nwaneri left with an ankle injury in the first half, but returned. Offensive tackle Cameron Bradfield also left the game with a leg injury and while he returned, he did not finish the game. Defensive tackle D'Anthony Smith left with a leg injury late in the game.
*Jones-Drew carried on the Jaguars' second play from scrimmage. He had reported to camp last Sunday after a 38-day holdout.
*When Lewis caught a 1-yard touchdown from Gabbert in the second quarter, it was Lewis' first touchdown reception since the final game of the 2010 season. He caught a career-high 10 touchdown passes that season.
*Gabbert afterward took the blame for an incomplete pass to Blackmon early in the game that could have resulted in a touchdown. The pass came on 1st-and-goal from the 5 near the end of a 77-yard, first-quarter drive. "It was one of those bang-bang plays," Gabbert said. "It's almost not a blind throw, but it is a blind throw. He's coming out from a pile, shooting out, but that's on me. I've got to make that throw. He's too open."
*Mularkey said throughout the preseason the Jaguars' tackling needed to improve, and he said after the season opener that remained an issue. The Vikings rushed for 123 yards on 29 carries, with Peterson rushing for 84 yards on 17 carries. The Jaguars also allowed Ponder 270 yards on 20-of027 passing, with Harvin turning short passes into long gains routinely. Harvin had 84 yards on six receptions. "We missed some tackles in space," Tucker said. "That led to some explosive plays in the run game and pass game. We were in position, but we just have to finish."
The Jaguars will play the Houston Texans at EverBank Field Sunday.
This was a disappointing loss, and as linebacker Paul Posluszny said afterward, there's no pretty way to frame it: it was a game the Jaguars should have won. The Jaguars led by three with 20 seconds remaining, and that's a situation in which you must hold the lead. Credit the Jaguars for fighting, and there were significant steps made, but this one hurt.