The weather was chilly and the threat of rain was in the air. The Jacksonville Jaguars 2011 Season has been a total disaster. So much promise after last season and the result has been heartbreaking for the faithful fans. The crowd wsn’t a large one for Everbank Field. That wasn’t surprising to me considering that the team was 3-9 and coming off a Monday Night Football loss to San Diego that was embarrassing to say the least. The first quarter got off to a rocky start the defense looked outmatched against the Buccaneers. The first drive of the game went the length of the field for a touchdown and took more than five minutes of time off the clock. The Jaguars first possession wasn’t any better than it has been all year. Good runs by Maurice Jones-Drew but nothing else. Two really high passes to Mercedes Lewis who didn’t even make a play for either ball resulted in a punt after only 1 first down.
The rest of the second quarter wasn’t any better. A fumble recovery by the Jaguars was squandered by more bad play on the offense and Tampa scored another touchdown. The game was at 14-0 and it was looking a lot like the last two quarters of the San Diego game where the team just seemed out of their league on both sides of the ball. I was thinking about how miserable I was and how sitting through another three quarters of this game was going to be unbearable.
The first two possesions in the second quarter didn’t bode much better as they resulted in two quick punts after little gain. Then something magical happened. On what looked like a routine punt Montell Owens delivered a forceful blow to the Tampa punt returner causing the ball to pop up in the air and roll towards the end zone. A Jaguars Tight End named Colin Cloherty #83 scooped up the ball and ran into the End Zone for the first Jaguar touchdown of the day. I scrambled for my program to find out who #83 was since I had no idea. I would be left in the dark for several hours because he wasn’t listed. I would find out later that he was only activated a couple of days before and this was his first game as a Jaguar.
The mood in the stadium was electric. I certainly didn’t anticipate the game to turn out like it had, but I felt excitement at the special teams score. I remember hoping that maybe somewhere the offense could get pumped up from the efforts of the special teams squad. I never expected what happened next. After a brief unremarkable Tampa possession Jacksonville’s Blaine Gabbert, who has struggled all year, was alive. He completed two short passes then on the third play of the drive back up in the pocket and hit a wide open Mercedes Lewis running down the middle of the field resulting in a 62 yard pass play taking the Jaguars to the 2 yard line. Two plays later Maurice Jones-Drew ran for his 69th touchdown of his career tying the record for touchdowns by a Jaguar player.
The Jaguars would add a defensive touchdown on a sack and a short pass to Jones-Drew for this record breaking 70th touchdown before the half was over. They were in command of the game and for the first time this season the team had turned in a lights out quarter of football and the faithful who had braved the weather and the poor records of the team were rewarded for their efforts with an amazing performance. The team would add two fourth quarter Jones-Drew touchdowns to win 41-14 making it a really special day for the team and the fans.
Jones-Drew awarded Mel Tucker, the Jaguars Defensive Coordinator turned Interim Head Coach, a game ball in the locker room later after the team had soaked Tucker with Gatorade on the field earlier. It was an emotional time for everyone. The game means nothing in the standings other than the jockeying for Draft Position, but it was terribly important for the Jaguars, Tucker and the fans to have a magical Christmas present of a game after the season of heartache, injuries, and disappointment. Whatever happens for the rest of the year, this game is what I will remember. Thanks Jaguars for making a cold, wet December day something special.