Cardinals quarterback Blaine Gabbert (7) celebrates with wide receiver Jaron Brown after the two hooked up on a 52-yard touchdown pass in a win over the Jaguars Sunday.
Every time Blaine Gabbert thrives, it benefits his future.
The Cardinals’ quarterback is on a one-year deal, and mounting success will give him more leverage for his next contract.
But Gabbert wasn’t wearing a smile below his Movember moustache on Sunday because he’s seemingly headed toward a career resurgence. He was happy because he had just left an enthusiastic Cardinals locker room.
“A lot of people make big deals about going into free agency, or you’re on a one-year deal, but that’s the farthest thing from my mind,” Gabbert said after the 27-24 win over the Jaguars. “The reason why we play these games is for the guys in that huddle and the guys in that locker room. Just being out with your boys and just having fun. We’re like kids out there.”
For a second straight game, Gabbert didn’t look like a kid – or a backup quarterback. The Cardinals’ fill-in continues to intrigue after completing 22-of-38 passes for 241 yards with two touchdowns and an interception.
The former first-round pick famously flamed out with this Jacksonville team and then the 49ers, but has realized much more of his potential since joining the Cardinals. Gabbert had some issues against an elite defensive unit – the Jaguars entered the game No. 1 in points allowed and total defense – but persevered to lead his team to victory.
“It was a hell of a performance by Blaine,” coach Bruce Arians said.
Gabbert avoided any calamitous errors early on and threw a touchdown pass to tight end Ricky Seals-Jones to help pit the Cardinals to a 16-3 lead. That lead was cut to 16-10 early in the fourth quarter, where Gabbert made his biggest mistake of the game.
He tried to extend a play on third down and was stripped of the ball by Jaguars defensive end Yannick Ngakoue. Defensive end Calais Campbell scooped it up for the score and a 17-16 lead, as it looked like Campbell would be exacting revenge on his former team.
But Gabbert never panicked – “What’s the next play?” he asked Arians after the turnover – and responded brilliantly on the Cardinals’ ensuing possession. He picked up a pair of first downs with his legs and then hit Jaron Brown on a 52-yard touchdown pass for a 24-17 lead.
Gabbert finished with 17 yards rushing in addition to eluding multiple sacks. He was brought down in the backfield only once.
“I think the difference in the game was his mobility,” Campbell said. “He made some plays, and extended some drives with his legs on third down – making guys miss and throwing the ball well down the field. We are built on getting pressure and stopping quarterbacks. When you can extend it for five to six seconds, it is hard on anybody.”
Gabbert put his team in a bad spot later in the fourth by throwing an interception, but safety Tyrann Mathieu saved him with an interception to keep the score tied. If there was any question about Gabbert’s late-game poise, he answered it on the game-winning drive.
The Cardinals didn’t have any timeouts, and he found Kerwynn Williams on the sideline for 10 yards and then D.J. Foster for 12. When Phil Dawson connected on the game-winner, the players rushed the field to appreciate the moment.
The future will come eventually, but for now, Gabbert’s enjoying the present.
“I just try to go out there and put my best foot forward,” he said. “Bring a little energy, bring a little juice to this football team. I just take it one play at a time and have fun doing it because this job is too hard not to have fun.”
Images from the Week 12 home matchup against Jacksonville