JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Jacksonville Jaguars' starting unit faded after a fast start. The New York Giants were the opposite, scoring on four consecutive series after being stopped on their opening drive.
Eli Manning only played two series and produced three points, and backup quarterback David Carr was impressive with a pair of second-quarter touchdown passes, but the Jaguars (No. 31 in the AP Pro32) used an 18-point second-half to squeak out a 32-31 win over the visiting Giants in the preseason opener for both teams.
Manning was 4 of 8 for 60 yards and a passer rating of 75.0 in his first game since leading the Giants (No. 3) to a win over New England in the Super Bowl in February. The Giants were forced to punt in their first series, but Manning directed a drive into the red zone on the next series before settling for a field goal.
Manning's best throw was a 28-yard completion to Victor Cruz to the 23. But he threw two incompletions in the next three plays and the Giants settled for a Lawrence Tynes' 34-yard field goal as Manning's night came to an end.
Jacksonville quarterback Blaine Gabbert was the better of the two quarterbacks in the first quarter, directing an 89-yard touchdown drive in 13 plays on the Jaguars' first series. After overthrowing Marcedes Lewis on his first pass attempt, Gabbert completed 4 of 6 passes for 51 yards, capped by a 3-yard TD toss to Cecil Shorts III.
All four of his pass completions came on third-down situations. The first three resulted in first downs and the fourth was a touchdown. That drew the praise of Jaguars coach Mike Mularkey.
"I was extremely proud of Blaine tonight," said Mularkey, who was awarded the game ball by the team in his coaching debut in Jacksonville. "No more pressure on him than anybody in the stadium when he walked into that huddle. And to take a team 90 yards and the things he did on third down. To do it all right and not do anything self-inflicted and move the ball down there against that defense, I was very proud of him."
But that one drive was the extent of Gabbert's success. The Jaguars' Cecil Shorts fumbled at the end of end-around run on the first play of the next series. Gabbert gave it up on the next series. He was sacked by Adrian Tracy and fumbled with the Giants Jason Pierre-Paul recovering on the Jaguars' 47.
It was reminiscent of some of Gabbert's deficiencies in his rookie season a year ago. That's when he was sacked 40 times in 15 games and he lost five fumbles, third most ever by a Jaguars quarterback.
"The biggest thing is that I've got to protect the football," Gabbert said. "We can't afford to fumble away the ball on back-to-back drives like that when the regular season comes around."
Carr took advantage of the Jaguars' two miscues to lead the Giants to a pair of touchdowns in the second quarter. He connected with tight end Martellus Bennett from 12 yards out and late in the half, teamed with wide receiver Isaiah Stanback for a 5-yard TD completion.
"This is a system that I'm comfortable with and that helps especially since we have a lot of young guys that are learning," Carr said. "For me to go out and do some good things, that way, I can take more of a leadership role. You tend to play better when you've got a lot of young guys around you."
There were plenty of young players on the field in the fourth quarter when the game was decided. Both teams' special teams gifted the opponent by fumbling away punts inside the 15-yard line. New York recovered the muffed catch by Mike Brown at the 12 and after a penalty scored on a 6-yard pass play from Ryan Perrilloux to Rueben Randle.
But the Giants returned the favor, coughing up two punts, one at the 9-yard line, which the Jaguars turned into a field goal, and another at the 32 that led to the game-winning drive.
Third-string quarterback Jordan Palmer led the TD march with running back Keith Toston taking it in from 9 yards out with 2 minutes left in the game.
The Jaguars then went for two with Palmer connecting with tight end Matt Veldman for the winning points.
"The number one thing is ball security as a punt returner," bemoaned Giants coach Tom Coughlin. "The first thing you have to do is catch the ball. We also have a lot of people who quite frankly don't know what they're doing."
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