He was hitting a number of different receivers on slants, out-routes, curls and screens. He was systematically picking apart a young Jets secondary.
This did not look like the Blaine Gabbert the football world is used to. This did not look like a guy who was skittish in the pocket, side-arming passes in order to avoid being hit by a defender. This guy was different. This guy was confident.
Then, on his final play of the game, he threw a rare incompletion. However, on the same play, Gabbert's right hand ricocheted off a defender's helmet -- which caused Gabbert to cradle his hand and grimace uncontrollably. It couldn't have been a big deal. His hand hit a defender's helmet. That's happens all the time, right?
Come to find out, Gabbert sustained a hairline fracture to his thumb. On his throwing hand.
The news was yet another blow to Jaguars fans, who have endured a countless number of them over the past half-decade. Right as the former first-round pick was coming into his own, he gets hurt. The setback caused him to miss the final two games of the preseason.
However, according to team officials, and Gabbert himself, the former Missouri standout should be ready to start in a Week 1 matchup against Kansas City, as he told Ryan O'Halloran of the Florida Times-Union.
"I'm being very careful with what we're doing and how we're doing it and what I'm wearing on it," he said. "I just can't have any setbacks from here on out."
Sustaining a hairline fracture on a throwing hand and coming back three weeks later is nothing short of miraculous. Surely, no matter how you slice it, Gabbert will be in pain at the start of the regular season. The hope is that it will not affect the accuracy on his passes and that he will go out there and take off where he left off a couple of weeks ago. Gabbert's backup, Chad Henne, has struggled throughout preseason.
While many may scoff at the notion, there is no denying that the Jaguars need Gabbert if they want to have success in the passing game this season. However, he will need to play well and show tremendous improvement from his first couple years in the league, which he has been doing over the course of training camp and preseason.
With weapons like Maurice Jones-Drew, Cecil Shorts III, Marcedes Lewis and (eventually) Justin Blackmon, on top of bookend tackles Eugene Monroe and Luke Joeckel, Gabbert should be able to show improvement as he finally has his entire arsenal healthy. He has no excuses now. His thumb injury will not hold water as an excuse if he falters this year. It is truly make-or-break time for the third-year quarterback. If he has a similar season as last year and the Jaguars hold a top five pick in the draft in 2014, Gabbert will not be back.
He has the physical tools. Offensively, he has the supporting cast. Thumb injury or not, this is his time to shine.
Matt Gonzales is a Jacksonville native who has been following the Jaguars for the last decade. He graduated from East Carolina University with a degree in Journalism and is a contributing freelance writer for both Yahoo! Sports and Cover32.com.
Follow Matt on Twitter @mattgonzales25.
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