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What we learned

Posted Dec 12, 2011

What we learned from the Jaguars’ 41-14 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Sunday.

Some of it’s good, some of it’s not, but here it is . . .

1) Maurice Jones-Drew is having an All-Pro year. There’s a difference between Pro Bowl and All-Pro in the NFL. Pro Bowl is a very, very good season. All-Pro means you’re the best. Jones-Drew has had Pro Bowl seasons in the past, but this may be his frame-it-and-hang-it-on-the-wall season and Sunday perhaps was his best game of that season. The Jaguars team hadn’t scored more than two touchdowns in a game all season; on Sunday, Jones-Drew scored four. Put that with his consistent production this season and that’s All-Pro stuff.

2) Mel Tucker can coach. We don’t know the future. We don’t know if Tucker will have the interim tag removed, but what we do know is the Jaguars had a chance in the second quarter to fade quietly away and send the season into a spiral. They didn’t, and considering the injuries that have piled up on defense, Tucker deserves some credit for that. He has preached the right things since taking over for Head Coach Jack Del Rio, and it was good to see him get a victory.

3) The players are listening to Tucker. After the game Sunday, players talked about continuing to do things the right way, and about playing in “relentless” fashion. Those are Tucker catch-phrases. Credit him for keeping the players on the same page in a tough time. There are three more games, but so far, he has gotten through to the players. That’s not easy in these circumstances.

4) The Buccaneers are in trouble. Their coach, Raheem Morris, might be, too. Credit the Jaguars for taking advantage of multiple Buccaneers mistakes Sunday, but seven turnovers? Seven consecutive losses? Times have turned tough again in Tampa.

5) Blaine Gabbert may be able to play a little. It has been a tough season for the rookie. Criticism has come from all sides and has come loud and often. Sunday’s game wasn’t one to frame and hang on that wall we discussed earlier, but it was a major, major step. He threw two touchdown passes for a second consecutive week, but mostly, he looked very good in the pocket and stepped into his passes. While there obviously is more growing to do – as there is with any rookie quarterback – what you saw Sunday was progress, and it came at a time he needed to make it.

6) The Jaguars have become really thin at receiver. Well, right now you could take out “receiver” and just say, “Fill in the blank.” Injuries have taken a toll everywhere on the roster, but when Cecil Shorts went out with a hamstring and Mike Thomas went out with a head injury, the Jaguars were down to Kassim Osgood, Jarett Dillard and Chastin West at receiver. In retrospect, that makes Gabbert’s day a bit more impressive.

7) The Jaguars have heart. How often have we talked about pride in recent weeks? Plenty. On Sunday, the Jaguars showed it. They were down 14-0 in the second quarter and things looked bleak. At that point, the Jaguars had been outscored 38-0 since taking a 14-10 lead on San Diego the previous Monday.  Quitting would have been easy. They didn’t.

8) Marcedes Lewis was worth keeping around after all. Remember early in the season? When some wanted Lewis released? That was silly, because Lewis is elite-level talent and a proven player and you don’t release guys like that. Not that the Jaguars ever even considered such a ridiculous notion. He struggled to start the season, but you couldn’t question his effort or desire and in recent weeks, he has begun to play at a high level again. With a guy like that, it was a matter of time.

9)The defense is still beat up. Before the Buccaneers’ rash of turnovers, there were some worrisome signs for the defense. The Buccaneers ran up the middle more easily than the Jaguars would have liked, and overall the Bucs moved efficiently early. But you know what? A team missing a slew of players at defensive end and cornerback is going to give up some plays. The Jaguars’ defense gutted it out and helped turn the momentum in the second quarter.

10)Daryl Smith has been good for a long time . . . and still is. Early in the game, when the Jaguars’ defense was struggling, he was getting pressure and making plays that helped the Jaguars stay in the game. He also forced a fumble on a sack near the goal line that defensive tackle Nate Collins recovered for a second-quarter touchdown. Smith won’t likely make the Pro Bowl because he’ll most likely be overlooked again because of the team’s record. Still, Smith has been doing it a long time for the Jaguars in a lot of tough circumstances. No surprise that he continues to play at a high level whatever the situation.

11)Montell Owens is still one of the best special teams players in the NFL. We usually stop at 10, but what the heck. Owens made the Pro Bowl last season as a special teams player. On Sunday, he forced two first-half fumbles. One helped keep the Jaguars close and the other helped change the game’s momentum. Special teams is big around the Jaguars, and the unit has been waiting for a big game all season. On Sunday, it happened and Owens was a big reason.

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