The deep, downfield pass fell incomplete in a game the Jacksonville Jaguars would eventually lose to the San Francisco 49ers, 42-10. That incompletion—for the record, it was in London, England—was the last time former Jags wide receiver Justin Blackmon would be targeted with a pass in his NFL career; it seems safe to say, after the team unofficially cut ties with him last week, that it's the last NFL pass he'll ever see thrown in his direction. Just five days later, he was suspended from the league indefinitely.
Outside of an arrest last summer, that final "intended for Blackmon" is the last anyone has heard from him.
If this is the end of Blackmon's strange, short career, he goes out with one major achievement as a NFL player—for all that Blackmon didn't do, he did redefine the idea of the flash-in-the-pan career for today's game. The Jaguars selected the two-time Biletnikoff Award winner from Oklahoma State with the fifth overall pick in the 2012 draft. He faded out having played all of 20 games in the league, putting up just under 1,300 receiving yards and six touchdowns in that time. He might be the biggest bust the team ever selected, which is an achievement in itself.
Shortly after being drafted, Blackmon was arrested for DUI, then came into training camp out of shape. There was talk that he didn't know the offense his rookie season; his lazily-run routes made it tough to say. Still, he had some exciting moments, including a record-breaking 236-yard, seven-catch performance against the Houston Texans in Week 11. Outside of that, his impact was minimal; that one game accounted for a little under a third of his production for the season.
The following offseason, Blackmon was handed a four-game suspension for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy. This was a surprise—Blackmon had an underage drinking citation in college, but that was about it. His 2013 season started in Week 5, and thanks to some shoddy safety play by the St. Louis Rams, Blackmon had a big day, including a 67-yard touchdown reception. That continued the next week against the Denver Broncos, in a shocking game the Jaguars kept close until the end; Blackmon hauled in 14 receptions on roughly 23 targets.
And that was more or less that.
Three weeks later, Blackmon was hit with his indefinite suspension for another violation of the NFL's substance abuse policy. When Jaguars general manager Dave Caldwell told reporters last week that, "common sense would probably be, if you haven't played football in two-and-a-half-years, apparently that's not a priority for you," it confirmed what barely even qualified as a suspicion. It's unknown whether Blackmon has even applied for reinstatement to the league. Common sense would indeed suggest that this is the end. But common sense has never really applied where Justin Blackmon was concerned, at least not for fans of the NFL's unluckiest franchise.
Since the retirement of Jimmy Smith, whose career also petered out amid off-field issues, Jaguars fans have been left wanting for a playmaking wide receiver. Blackmon was never that player, but the few games in which he was were enough for a sizable percentage of Jags fans, who have adopted him as the team's unicorn. Even if he never did the job for the Jags, Blackmon would be that guy for them. Many still feel he can be, despite the fact that it appears he won't ever play in the NFL again, despite the fact that the earliest he'd be eligible to do so would be 2016, and despite the fact that'd be nearly three years removed from his last NFL route by then. He's the thing that should not be. In madness we dwell.
And so fans shouted down Caldwell's comments and bemoaned the fact that the team has no plans for Blackmon to return. The three good games in his career—assisted quite a bit by being force-fed targets and a lot of bad safety play, and by a great deal of desperation on the part of the fans—have made him the second coming of Dez Bryant.
Blackmon fills the classic "what could have been" role for Jags fans, who have little to go on beyond that sort of magical thinking. The Jaguars have had a hell of a time trying to recreate the wonder years of Jimmy Smith and Keenan McCardell, running through the likes of R. Jay Soward, Reggie Williams, Matt Jones, and Jerry Porter in the process. It has been turd after turd for nearly a decade, and Blackmon—those three games notwithstanding—fit right in.
Unlike the rest of those duds, however, Blackmon is still on his pedestal for many fans. As someone who watched every NFL game he ever played, I'm still not quite sure why. Blackmon struggled to stay in football shape and often appeared not to know what route he should be running. Mostly and most damningly never appeared all that interested in playing football—for the Jaguars or anyone else. Common sense says he's done; most of the evidence suggests he never wanted to be there in the first place. It would seem high time for Jags fans to let him go, but when you're dealing with unicorns, common sense doesn't typically apply.