Blaine Gabbert said this week that he had calls from other teams this off-season, but Arizona was the place and the offense that he felt was best suited for him.
When Steve Keim signed Gabbert following the NFL Draft there seemed to be more to this signing than just a way to compensate for not landing one of the QBs in the draft.
Sure, the team already had Carson Palmer entrenched as the starter and Drew Stanton on board as BA's #2, but Keim knew that there would be plenty of snaps to go around during OTAs, mini-camp, training camp and the 5-game pre-season. Keim knew as well that he and BA have always liked Blaine Gabbert.
The plan was to give Carson Palmer more days off than usual---which would give BA and the Cardinals a very good chance to see what kind of a fit Blaine Gabbert was in the system.
From day one, Gabbert was turning heads---not only with his arm strength and mobility, but, most of all, with his propensity to pick up the offense at lightning speed. Perhaps learning six offenses in six years as a pro, aided and abetted Gabbert's cause---but, regardless, Gabbert's work ethic and diligent study habits impressed the coaches (BA, Harold Goodwin, Tom Moore and new highly touted QB coach, Byron Leftwich) big-time.
Two games into his short tenure as the Cardinals' starting QB, Gabbert has already shown that he has a command of the offense, that he can make the most difficult throws via a natural, quick and easy delivery, and, just as significantly, that a mobile QB in BA's offense is made to order, given BA's penchant for spreading the field and counting on the offense line to give the QB just enough time to find and hit the open man. And if not, BA said this week, "Blaine can use his legs and take off."
Gabbert has made 4 mistakes---three interceptions (one of which BA argued should never have happened had Brittan Golden played the ball better) and a costly strip sack fumble that was scooped up by Calais Campbell and run seven yards for what then looked like a back-breaking TD.
On the flip side, Gabbert has thrown for 5 TDs, 3 of which to fellow scout team player TE Ricky Seals-Jones, one on a 20 yard strike to Larry Fitzgerald and the other on a 52 yard bomb to Jaron Brown. In addition, Gabbert was successful in converting a key 2 point conversion on a pass to Fitzgerald.
In both of his starts, Gabbert has led the Cardinals to first half leads, the first of which was squandered in the second half in Houston, the second of which was turned into a stunning 27-24 win over the then 7-3 Jaguars by virtue of Phil Dawson's 57 yard FG.
Gabbert's first half leads might have been more substantial had he not shown a tendency of throwing short of the sticks on 3rd downs, something that has plagued his performances in the past.
However, in the second half of the Jaguars' game, Gabbert made a concerted effort to pass beyond the sticks, epitomized by one of 4 throws he made in this game that were sensational:
1. The 3rd down conversion in the 2nd half to Larry Fitzgerald thrown with laser precision to Fitz's back shoulder between the CB and the FS.
2. The TD pass in the first half to TE Ricky Seals-Jones, where Gabbert made a quick read and feathered a precisely times spiral with perfect touch to RSJ, who then was able to elude two tacklers with relative ease.
3. The 52-yard TD to Jaron Brown where Gabbert was immediately threatened on an explosive rush from Calais Campbell, which Gabbert quickly side-stepped and then crow hopped back into the middle of the pocket to flick the ball 50 yards over the defense to Jaron Brown, just as the pocket was collapsing.
4. The game winning frozen rope Gabbert threw up the left sideline to another of his scout team partners, D.J. Foster. Not only was this throw shot out of a cannon, it arrived on a beeline at the most precise spot where Foster could make the catch and drag his toes to stay in bounds.
BA said two key things after the Jaguars' win: (1) Gabbert made some throws that only a handful of QBs can make; (2) He would feel "very comfortable" with Gabbert as the starter in 2018.
Gabbert himself said two key things after the win: (1) that beating the Jaguars felt nice only because the Cardinals as a team won the game (in other words, this win "isn't about me" beating my former team); (2) that he felt perfectly prepared to win the game with only 20 some off seconds left because they had practiced the situation over and over.
At this point, it appears that having a strong armed, mobile QB running who is already showing a solid, functional command the offense, has rejuvenated Bruce Arians at a time when Arians' luster has been fading in Arizona.
What this does for BA is it allows him to keep all the aspects of his offense in place---but, moreover, Gabbert's mobility allows him to expand the offense in ways he was unable to with Palmer and Stanton.
Gabbert's potential could be an added incentive for BA to return in 2018.
The thought of having Gabbert behind center next year with a revamped offensive line and the return of RB David Johnson is very appealing. While Gabbert was not able to target Larry Fitzgerald as much versus the Jaguars because they were bracketing him all game, the fact that Gabbert was still able to connect with Fitz in a couple of key situations to add to Fitz's 9/91/1 TD performance versus Houston may suggest that Fitz could be eager to return in 2018.
While Gabbert's win over the Jaguars was being immediately hailed as The Quarterback Redemption (Du-Blaine with QB guru Byron Leftwich) on the Cardinals' own website (see image below)...an upset win this week over the 8-3 Rams would be a redemption of sorts for BA, who, like many Cardinals' players and fans, must be struck by the irony that the team he publicly branded in 2014 as a "perennial 8-8" also-ran is now one game away from having its first winning record in 14 years, while BA's Cardinals are now the ones for two straight year hovering around the .500 mark.
Obviously a win versus the Rams this week will take a Herculean effort on the Cardinals' part---but what a sweet statement it would be for BA and the Cardinals to make it clear to the Rams that their 33-0 win in London was an anomaly and that the Cardinals have every intention of battling the Rams tooth and nail this week. As BA said this week to Dan Bickley, "Don't bury us yet."
As Andy said to Red on the eve of Andy's escape from Shawshank: "It really comes down to one simple choice...it's either get busy living...or get busy dying."
Gabbert will have his hands full versus the Rams. There are likely to be many ups and downs and ebbs and flows in this game. But, for BA, Gabbert and the Cardinals, this game and the remaining games this year, may very well be a very interesting and hopefully exciting glimpse into the future. "Hope is a good thing, Red."