CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Blaine Gabbert led the Jacksonville Jaguars to a touchdown through a torrential downpour on the final play of the first half, then drove his team within reach of a comeback victory.
He just couldn't quite snatch a win away from fellow rookie quarterback Cam Newton.
Gabbert threw for 139 yards and a touchdown in his starting debut as the Jaguars lost 16-10 to the Carolina Panthers, falling short in his matchup with Newton — the No. 1 overall draft pick.
"It's tough to not come away with a win," Gabbert said, "especially after leading for most of the game."
Gabbert, the 10th pick out of Missouri, completed 12 of 21 passes, but he fumbled three snaps — the Jaguars recovered each one — and threw an interception on a day in which the heavy rain through the second and third quarter slowed the game to a crawl. He found Mike Thomas for a 36-yard touchdown pass on the final play of the half despite the poor conditions for a 10-5 lead.
"It was a good start for him, considering it was a hurricane," said Maurice Jones-Drew, who ran for 122 yards.
Gabbert drove the Jaguars to the 36-yard line in the final seconds. But after officials upheld a 9-yard catch by Marcedes Lewis on a review with 16 seconds left, Gabbert and the timeout-less Jaguars managed to get only one more snap. Carolina linebacker Thomas Williams deflected Gabbert's pass for Jason Hill to end the game.
"There was some confusion out there and we weren't prepared," Gabbert said. "That falls on my shoulders for us not to have gotten that snap off sooner. We should have had two shots at the end zone."
For the Panthers, Newton found Greg Olsen over the middle for a 16-yard touchdown with 4:20 left for the go-ahead score. Newton also found Olsen for the ensuing 2-point conversion that helped Carolina rally for its first win under new coach Ron Rivera.
The Panthers seriously considered taking Gabbert with the top pick before deciding on the Heisman Trophy winner out of Auburn. The decision has certainly paid off so far, with Newton energizing the Charlotte area while giving the franchise the type of exciting player it has never really had.
Newton wasn't sharp early, overthrowing several open receivers and managing to direct only one first-half scoring drive that ended with a field goal early in the second quarter.
Things didn't start out well for Gabbert, either. With the Jaguars taking over at their own 10 on their first series, offensive lineman Eugene Monroe was penalized for illegal use of hands to wipe out a chain-moving completion on Gabbert's first throw. That backed the Jags up even more, and Greg Hardy got past Guy Whimper on the right side to trip up Gabbert in the end zone for a safety.
His next drive wasn't much better, starting at the Jacksonville 6 and ending when Charles Johnson sacked Gabbert on third down. He got the Jaguars on the board by directing a field goal drive, aided by the Panthers jumping offside on a punt to give Jacksonville a first down after what was going to be a three-and-out.
Conditions got even tougher for both passers when the heavy rain arrived, sending fans fleeing to the concourse for cover and leaving massive puddles on the field and around the sidelines.
But Gabbert and the Jaguars came up with a stunning scoring drive right before the half, with Thomas catching the long pass from Gabbert and leaping across the goal line as time expired for the 10-5 lead.