Sometimes just believing in miracles isn't enough.
The Jacksonville Jaguars fought long and hard against the heavily favored Green Bay Packers, but ultimately came up just short in their bid to pull off one of the most unlikely upsets of the year, losing 24-15 in Lambeau Field.
The Jaguars defense hassled Aaron Rodgers into a fumble and two sacks and held him under 200 yards passing in a gallant attempt to steal a much-needed second victory on the 2012 season.
The Jaguars fell behind early, 14-3, thanks to a blocked punt that was returned for a touchdown by Dezman Moses.
Still, the Jaguars rallied thanks to a series of long passes by Blaine Gabbert, who had a career-best 303 yards passing. Gabbert hit 11 passes of at least 15 yards, but was forced to throw the ball nearly 50 times, as the running game with Rashad Jennings never got untracked.
With the offense serially incapable of capitalizing on their string of big plays, the Jaguars defense kept them in the game. A key strip of Rodgers late in the first half set up the lone Jacksonville touchdown of the afternoon.
Gabbert and the Jaguars converted the short field into six points, but failed to tie the game at 14 as Gabbert threw behind Justin Blackmon on a two-point conversion attempt.
The second half was a war of attrition, as both teams struggled offensively. Jacksonville had multiple opportunities to take the lead, but went 3-and-out on three consecutive third-quarter possessions. Over this key stretch, Gabbert was 2-of-5 for nine yards and was sacked for a 15-yard loss.
Eventually the dam broke on the Packers offense as Aaron Rodgers hooked up with Donald Driver for a score early in the fourth quarter to put the Jaguars down by nine.
Gabbert led the Jaguars on an impressive drive marked by good throws and solid navigation of the pocket, but it ultimately bogged down in the red zone. A field goal by Josh Scobee trimmed the margin to five.
Once again, the defense rallied to the cause, shutting down the Packers in just three plays. After the punt, the Jaguars needed 92 yards over the last five-plus minutes to pull the upset.
The drive would eventually penetrate as far as the Green Bay 44, before ending on fourth down as Gabbert threw wide of Blackmon. There was contact on the play, but no flag was thrown.
Again the Jaguars defense did its job, but on 3rd-and-7, it was hit with a 38-yard pass interference penalty which dashed Jacksonville's hopes of getting another shot at the end zone.
Defensively, it was the best performance of the year by the embattled Jaguars, who had to wonder when their top-10 defense from 2011 was going to make an appearance in 2012.
Offensively, the team failed to capitalize on the strong play of the defense. They scored just 15 points and only managed one touchdown with a short field.
For Gabbert, this will be a lightning-rod game. While he hit a number of impressive passes (including several to WR Cecil Shorts, who piled up 116 yards receiving) and absorbed a variety of crushing hits from the defense, there were also long stretches of inaccuracy.
Moving forward, the rest of the season will likely be a referendum on Gabbert. Jacksonville has a pair of winnable home games against the Detroit Lions and Indianapolis Colts, and they should provide an excellent litmus test of how far Gabbert has come.
At 1-6 on the year, the playoffs are obviously out the question, but how the team plays down the stretch will determine the fates of general manager Gene Smith, as well as head coach Mike Mularkey and possibly Gabbert.
This was a noble effort in defeat for the Jags, but it will take more than nobility to hang a second win on the board.
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