By Adesina O. Koiki
GLENDALE, Ariz. – The performance that Arizona Cardinals quarterback Blaine Gabbert put on Sunday was the type of performance that the Jacksonville Jaguars envisioned he would replicate many times while wearing their uniform. Unfortunately for the Jaguars, Gabbert played one of the best games of his career against his former employer.
Gabbert, the Jaguars’ first-round pick in the 2011 NFL Draft whose career never took off while in Jacksonville, threw for two touchdowns and led a last-second drive – set up by poor Jaguars clock management on offense – that resulted in Phil Dawson’s 57-yard field goal with one second remaining as the Cardinals defeated Jacksonville 27-24 at University of Phoenix Stadium.
The loss drops the Jaguars to 7-4, now tied with the Tennessee Titans for first place in the AFC South.
Coming into the game with a four-game winning streak, the Jaguars were sluggish on all facets, as they had to dig out of an early 13-0 hole. Jacksonville was able to do just that to tie the game in the fourth quarter, but Doug Marrone’s decision to throw a pass on the Jaguars’ final drive that eventually fell incomplete allowed Arizona to save a timeout, which was crucial to the Cardinals as they made their game-winning kick on virtually the last play of the game.
“At the end of the game I’ve got to do a better job,” Marrone said after the game. “I ran the ball on first down and got greedy.”
Gabbert led the Cardinals down the field on the team’s first drive of the game, which ended with a Dawson 34-yard field goal to give Arizona a 3-0 lead.
After punting on its first two offensive possessions of the game, Jacksonville embarked on its best drive of the half, marching 56 yards to the Arizona 34-yard line early in the second quarter. On first down, however, running back Chris Ivory fumbled after being hit by linebacker Josh Bynes, and fellow linebacker Karlos Dansby recovered to end the Jaguars drive. The Cardinals turned that turnover into points, as Dawson connected on a 42-yard field goal to double the Cardinals’ lead.
After another Jaguars punt, Gabbert finally led the Cardinals into the end zone, hitting rookie tight end Ricky Seals-Jones up the middle for a 29-yard touchdown to give Arizona a 13-0 lead.
On its final drive of the first half, Jacksonville finally got on the board. Quarterback Blake Bortles completed five of six passes on the drive, which ended with Josh Lambo’s 43-yard field goal to cut the Jaguars’ deficit to 13-3 heading into halftime.
Dawson kicked his third field goal, a 48-yarder, to cap off the first drive of the third quarter to give Arizona a 16-3 lead.
Jacksonville, who gained only 98 yards on offense in the first half, went 75 yards on a touchdown drive on its opening drive of the quarter. Faced with a fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line, the Jaguars went for the touchdown and scored when Bortles faked a handoff to running back Leonard Fournette and ran to the right, diving into the end zone and bringing the Jaguars to within 16-10 at the 7:33 mark of the third.
Jacksonville’s defense struggled for most of the game to slow down Arizona’s offense, but came up with two massive defensive plays in the fourth quarter – the first giving the Jaguars the lead. Deep in his own territory, Gabbert lost control of the football while getting sacked by defensive end Yannick Ngakoue and fellow end (and former Arizona Cardinal) Calais Campbell returned the fumble 10 yards for a touchdown to give Jacksonville a 17-16 lead.
The Cardinals’ offense responded, needing just six plays to regain the lead after Campbell’s touchdown. Gabbert eluded the rush from Campbell and floated a deep ball that was caught by receiver Jaron Brown for a 52-yard touchdown with 9:07 left.
Gabbert then completed a pass to Larry Fitzgerald for the two-point conversion to give the Cardinals a 24-17 lead.
Playing with a lot more confidence, Jacksonville’s offense went back down the field to tie the game, with Bortles completing the drive with his second touchdown run of the game, a 17-yard jaunt up the middle to square the game at 24 with 7:26 remaining.
The Jaguars thought they were close to winning the game when they came up with another takeaway towards the end of the game. Gabbert threw a pass over the middle that was intercepted by safety Barry Church at the Jaguars’ own 42-yard line with 3:38 remaining. However, four plays later, and with Jacksonville inside of Arizona’s 40-yard line, Bortles threw an interception to Cardinals safety Tyrann Mathieu, ending Jacksonville’s drive just before the two-minute warning.
Jacksonville forced a three-and-out on Arizona’s next possession and received the ball at its own 10-yard line with 1:14 remaining. Playing for overtime looked to be the Jaguars’ strategy as T.J. Yeldon ran the ball for two yards on first down and Arizona only having one timeout remaining. But Arizona decided to be aggressive on second down and run a pass play, but Bortles’ pass for Marqise Lee was incomplete and allowed the Cardinals to save their last timeout. Fournette ran for two yards on third down, and Arizona called its final timeout after the play with 27 seconds remaining.
The Cardinals received the ball after the Jaguars punt with 16 seconds left at their own 39, and Gabbert completed consecutive passes to move the ball to Jacksonville’s 39-yard line with six seconds left.
Dawson then came onto the field and connected on his career-long field goal, from 57 yards, to win the game.
Jacksonville returns home to EverBank Field for an AFC South matchup against the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday Dec. 3 at 1 PM EST.