Pouring rain and poor clock management drowned the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday afternoon.
Jacksonville (1-2) fell to the Carolina Panthers (1-2) 16-10 in a contest where sloppy play, a vanilla offensive attack and a baffling coaching blunder by Jack Del Rio prevented the Jaguars from getting the road win.
Trailing 16-10 with 38 seconds left, rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert completed a low-sailing nine-yard pass to tight end Marcedes Lewis to put the Jaguars at Carolina’s 36-yard line.
The play was reviewed with around 16 seconds left. Jacksonville had no timeouts left and the clock would start immediately if the catch was upheld. Lewis’ snag was upheld, meaning the Jaguars had to snap the ball quickly or kill the clock on 2nd and 1.
But Del Rio didn’t know that. Instead, the Jaguars will ill-prepared and the clock began running. Gabbert was barking at center Brad Meester to snap the ball, but he didn’t hear Gabbert until there five seconds left. The rookie finally got the ball but it was too late, as he made a chaotic toss towards the end zone that fell short.
Del Rio’s coaching snafu cost the Jaguars a chance at a dramatic comeback, but the game was lost because of self-inflicted wounds throughout the matchup.
Gabbert’s first career start got off to a rocky. Jacksonville’s opening drive began pinned back at his their own 13-yard line, but Gab
bert connected with receiver Jason Hill for a 13-yard gain.
The play was negated following a Eugene Monroe penalty and it pushed the Jaguars back to the seven. Gabbert was taken down for a safety two plays later, giving the Panthers a 2-0 lead.
After exchanging field goal, including a 53-yarder by Josh Scobee, a torrential downpour began in the first half. Both offenses stalled amid the heavy rain until Maurice Jones-Drew broke off a 39-yard run right before half time to give the Jaguars the ball at Carolina’s 36.
Jones-Drew finished with 122 yards rushing on 24 attempts.
With six seconds left in the half, Gabbert launched a Hail Marry pass up to Mike Thomas on the very next play. Thomas caught the ball at the seven-yard line and squeezed his way past Carolina defenders for a touchdown, giving Jacksonville a 10-5 lead at the break.
The rain slowed down in the second half, as did Jacksonville’s offense. Del Rio and his staff were conservative in their play calling, keeping the handcuffs on Gabbert and opting to stick with an inconsistent ground game. The weather played a factor in the low-risk approach, but Gabbert wasn’t
bad enough to justify throwing the ball just 21 times.
In fact, Gabbert was fairly decent. He completed 57 percent of his passes and threw a touchdown and an interception.
Jacksonville’s kill-the-clock attack in the second half put Carolina in a position to make enough plays to win. It's hard to play the 'what-if' game but the Jaguars probably would have came out of the game with a win if the play-calling was a little more aggressive.
Punter Matt Turk mishandled a snap—likely due to wet field conditions—in the third quarter, putting an end to Jacksonville's strategy of playing for field position. Carolina took over at Jacksonville’s 38 and Orlando Mare made a 32-yard field goal to cut the score to 10-8. Jacksonville had five fumbles during the game, three on snaps between Gabbert and Meester, but the team recovered all five.
The Jaguars were strong on defense and pressured rookie quarterback Cam Newton all game. He managed to avoid being sacked but was harassed into 18-of-34 for 158 yards and a touchdown. Jacksonville defenders dropped at least five would-be interceptions. Newton had thrown for more than 400 yards his previous two games.
Carolina accumulated just 265 yards on offense but Newton was able to make a play when it mattered most, as he found tight end Greg Olsen 16-yard score with 2:24 left in the game. That would prove to be the game-winning score.