When Rashean Mathis went down in the second quarter with a knee injury against the Indianapolis Colts, not only did the Jacksonville Jaguars lose a key member of their secondary, they lost a vocal leader in the locker room. Both have been important to the stability of this unbalanced team in 2011.
Mathis was diagnosed with a torn ACL on Monday and was placed on injured reserve. According to a story by Tania Ganguli in the Florida Times-Union, Mathis wasn't the only one whose season ended this week. Right tackle Eben Britton, who has been suffering from back issues since the beginning of training camp and linebacker Kyle Bosworth were also placed in the list, and will not see action again this year.
According to the article, Mathis will likely be replaced by Will Middleton, who stepped in against the Colts. Middleton has started in four games this season in relief of cornerback Derek Cox. Others on the cornerback depth chart include nickel corner Drew Coleman, and undrafted rookies T.J. Heath and Kevin Rutland.
The Jaguars signed defensive back Ashton Youboty and defensive end George Selvie to fill the open roster spot.
The Jaguars showed some, albeit little, life in the 17-3 win on the road. The defense again strangled the Colts offense, and now are ranked fifth overall in the NFL. The running game continued to show it is the workhorse of the team, with Maurice Jones-Drew gaining 114 yards on the day.
The offense was also aided by the fact that Blaine Gabbert completed 14-of-21 passes and looked more comfortable in the passing game. He still had his issues with throwing in a downward motion at the feet of his receivers, but he completed 66-percent of his passes on the day.
Gabbert was helped by the fact that both Jarrett Dillard and Chastin West introduced themselves to the passing game last week and figure to earn more playing time based on their performances.
The Jaguars play at Cleveland on Sunday.
Because the team has won the last two of three games on their schedule, there is a bit of optimism for this club. Head coach Jack Del Rio touched on that at his Monday press conference with the media. But the team will now go at it on the field without one of its key leaders and veterans.
“On film, you can see it go out,’’ Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio said in a story written by Vito Stellino in the Tuesday edition of the Florida Times-Union. “No contact. Foot planted on the turn, knee shifted.“It’s life in the NFL. It’s a tough business. It’s tough for guys to get the news that they’re going on IR, but as a football team, we’re going forward doing the best we can.
“He’s a good football player. He was having a good year for us.”
But there is also some question as to whether Mathis, who is from Jacksonville and drafted in 2003, will even be with the team next season. This year was the last year of his contract and according to Stellino, the team had not entered negotiations with him or his agent yet.
If the injury hurts his free agent status, it could mean the team would be able to hold on to him at a better price on the open market.
The Jaguars go through a portion of their schedule that may help them. After Cleveland, they face Houston, who lost starting quarterback Matt Schaub for the season to a foot injury and now Matt Leinart will start in his place.
San Diego come to Jacksonville on Dec. 5 followed by Tampa Bay. The Jaguars, if given more consistent play, could win at least three of those four games and jump right back into the AFC South playoff race.