It turns out, even Blake Bortles couldn't stop Jacksonville's defense from dragging the Jaguars to the divisional round of the postseason. On Sunday, the Jaguars overcame a horrific offensive performance by riding their defense to a 10-3 win over the Bills, setting up a showdown with the Steelers next week.
Yards, points, and competent offensive football were at a premium. Bortles bortled all game long. Leonard Fournette (57 yards on 21 carries) couldn't find any running room. On the other side of the ball, Tyrod Taylor didn't fare much better. LeSean McCoy provided a gutty one-legged effort, but even he couldn't guide the Bills into the end zone.
The first quarter ended with five first downs, and neither team made it past midfield. The quality of offensive play never improved. The two quarterbacks combined to average 3.7 yards per attempt. The 13 combined points were the lowest scoring total in a playoff game since the 1997 postseason.
The 13 combined points between the Jaguars and Bills are the fewest in a postseason game since the Steelers beat the Patriots, 7-6, in the 1997 Divisional Playoffs. pic.twitter.com/oYcRMplXQ0— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 7, 2018
Some will call it an old-school, defensive-minded game. Others will talk about the field position battle. In reality, it was an offensive, offensive performance. In other words, it went exactly how a Bills-Jaguars game was expected to go.
The game's only touchdown came late in the third quarter. Deadlocked at 3-3, the Jaguars faced a fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line. Instead of taking a free three-point advantage, which would've felt like an insurmountable lead with how poorly both offenses were playing, the Jaguars opted to go for the death blow. Instead of handing the ball to Fournette, the Jaguars decided to put the biggest play of the game in the hands of their consistently inconsistent quarterback.
It worked. On that fourth down, Bortles stumbled after taking the snap from under center. He recovered in time to execute a half-hearted play-fake. And then he threaded a perfectly placed pass to Ben Koyack, who barely hung onto the ball as he fell out of the end zone. The Jaguars took a 10-3 lead.
On 4th-and-goal...@BBortles5 finds @koymonster for the 1-yard TD! #Jaguars #BUFvsJAX pic.twitter.com/l85UHFINlZ— NFL (@NFL) January 7, 2018
It really did feel like the Jaguars pulled off the impossible by scoring a touchdown, which is why nobody should mock the celebration that ensued by the Jaguars' heads of state:
This would be 1000x better if it was Tom Coughlin pic.twitter.com/UDLgOlKJ5o— CJ Fogler (@cjzero) January 7, 2018
It was all their defense would need. All game long, whenever they needed a play, the Jaguars' defense came up with one. In the first half, despite a special teams blunder on fourth down that gave the Bills a first-and-goal, they held the Bills to a field goal. In the second half, they repeatedly stopped the Bills by harassing Taylor, constantly forcing him to give up on broken down plays. Every game-tying drive attempt was squashed. The Jaguars' defense was so dominant, it made a seven-point lead feel like a double-digit advantage.
The Jaguars held the Bills to 3.6 yards per play. They only sacked Taylor twice, but their low sack total doesn't do their performance justice. They generated the game's only two turnovers, sealing the game with an incredible interception of Nathan Peterman by Jalen Ramsey.
.@JALENRAMSEY CALLED GAME. #BUFvsJAX #Jaguars#NFLPlayoffs pic.twitter.com/XW82fxZ2zE— NFL (@NFL) January 7, 2018
The Jaguars' offensive performance won't inspire much confidence. It won't make pundits take this Jaguars team seriously as a Super Bowl contender, but if there's one thing that travels in the NFL, it's defense. And the Jaguars certainly have one, as Sunday's win proved once again.
It's a defense that tormented the Steelers once already this season, when they picked off Ben Roethlisberger five times en route to a 30-9 win. And it's a defense that should scare the hell out of every remaining team in the postseason -- yes, including the Patriots. If there's one way to beat the Patriots in the postseason, it's by hitting Tom Brady over and over again. And the Jaguars can do exactly that, as Sunday's game reinforced once again. This Jaguars team might not be fun. But they're scary.
Read on for six takeaways.
1. Bortles the runner
After watching Bortles try his best to bortle away the Jaguars' first playoff game in a decade, the Jaguars turned to an unlikely source to extend their dream season: Blake Bortles' legs. Against the Bills, Bortles was more effective as a runner than a passer.
Bortles actually finished with more rushing yards (88) than passing yards (87). He averaged 8.8 yards per run compared to 3.8 yards per pass.
Blake Bortles currently has 87 Pass yards on 23 attempts.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 7, 2018
The last QB to win a playoff game with fewer than 100 pass yards on 20+ attempts was Steve McNair in the 1999 AFC Wild Card Game against the Bills.
That was the Bills' last playoff game. pic.twitter.com/jca3hQtIgU
Midway through the second quarter, Bortles seemed to realize for himself that he couldn't beat the Bills with his arm. So, he took off running instead. Trailing 3-0 late in the second quarter, Bortles drove the Jaguars into field goal range with a pair of scrambles.
BLAKE BORTLES.— NFL (@NFL) January 7, 2018
The @Jaguars in FG range! #BUFvsJAX
📺: @NFLonCBS pic.twitter.com/06iL9JJmPu
And he kept on running in the second half. At one point, the Jaguars even called for a zone-read. Late in the fourth quarter, as the Jaguars tried to drain as much time off the clock before inevitably being forced to punt the ball back to the Bills, Bortles dropped a shotgun snap. Instead of panicking, he calmly scooped up the ball and ran for a rare first down.
He scared the heck out of a cameraman:
This cameraman's life flashed before his eyes pic.twitter.com/ZqNulYXOCj— Richard Lee-Sam (@RLeesam) January 7, 2018
So, let's state the obvious: This isn't a sustainable way to win football games. If the Jaguars face a deficit next week against the Steelers, Bortles is not going to be able to lead a comeback by running all over the field. At some point, if these Jaguars are going to shock the powerhouses in the AFC, they'll need Bortles to throw the ball effectively, like he did at the beginning of December. Based on the way he played down the stretch and again on Sunday, that appears to be unlikely.
As a passer, Bortles finished 12 of 23 for 87 yards, one touchdown, no picks, and a 75.8 passer rating.
2. Jaguars waste a rare Tyrod turnover
On that note, one series in particular sticks out. In the second quarter, with the score still knotted at zero, the Jaguars' defense came up with a rare and incredible interception of Taylor when Myles Jack forced a deflection and Aaron Colvin's catch somehow survived the ground.
The @Jaguars defense!— NFL (@NFL) January 7, 2018
What a pick by @AColvin_22! #Jaguars #BUFvsJAX pic.twitter.com/1q2RyWCH17
All the Jaguars' offense needed to do was gain a few yards and let Josh Lambo kick a field goal. Instead, the Jaguars lost three yards and were forced to punt.
Those kind of series can't happen against a team like the Steelers, who will punish them for it.
3. Bills waste an extra life
Immediately after the Jaguars' three-and-out, the Bills went to work, embarking upon an 18-play, 71-yard drive that ate up over eight minutes of game clock and ended with a field goal. They should've gotten more.
On third-and-2 from the 4-yard line, Taylor took off to run and he appeared to be in the clear right up until the moment Calais Campbell ankle-tackled him from behind.
This touchdown-saving tackle by @Campbell93... 🙌 #BUFvsJAX #Jaguars— NFL (@NFL) January 7, 2018
📺: @NFLonCBS pic.twitter.com/qoJDL2hv8S
When the Bills lined up to settle for a field goal, the Jaguars jumped offside, giving the Bills a fresh set of downs at the goal line. Instead of pounding the ball with their ground game against a Jaguars' defense that is susceptible against the run, they chose to throw a pass to Kelvin Benjamin. Not only did the pass fall incomplete, but Benjamin got called for offensive pass interference, which backed the Bills back outside the 10-yard line. They ended up having to settle for a field goal instead of scoring a touchdown and making the Jaguars overcome a seven-point deficit.
That ended up being the key sequence in the game for the Bills, who also botched their end-of-half drive and gave the Jaguars a chance to tie the game up at 3-3 just before halftime.
4. Gutty effort by McCoy
McCoy, who hurt his ankle in Week 17, wasn't a lock to play in this game. He didn't look to be 100 percent, but even still, he provided a gutty, hobbled effort. McCoy rushed for 75 yards on 19 carries, and caught six passes for 44 yards. He was the only reliable playmaker on the Bills' offense.
This was probably the game's best offensive play, which isn't saying much, but still:
SHADYYYYYY! #GoBills#BUFvsJAX pic.twitter.com/R7jmsly3II— NFL (@NFL) January 7, 2018
Give credit to McCoy for fighting through an injury to make a difference. It's not his fault he didn't get any help from his teammates. It's not his fault the Bills' dream season ended on Sunday.
5. A scary end to Taylor's day
The Bills' dream season had a scary ending. As the Bills attempted to mount a desperate tying drive in the final minute, Taylor stepped up in the pocket and tried to escape downfield. He didn't make it past the line of scrimmage, getting slammed down from behind. He didn't get back up, at least not for a while.
Taylor's head bounced off the turf in a violent manner.
the way tyrod taylor just let go of the ball like that is terrifying pic.twitter.com/AT19M8HN7q— Jordan Heck (@JordanHeckFF) January 7, 2018
He remained down on the ground for a few minutes.
Tyrod Taylor is down pic.twitter.com/BBgVP74eyR— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) January 7, 2018
Eventually, he was able to walk off the field and back to the locker room as the Jaguars denied Peterman's comeback bid.
Taylor finished 17 of 37 for 134 yards, no touchdowns, one pick, and a 44.2 passer rating. He also rushed for 27 yards.
6. The AFC playoff picture is set
The Steelers will host the Jaguars, which means the Patriots will host the Titans. Somehow, two AFC South teams remain in the playoff picture, which just about sums up this strange season.
Here's what the schedule is looking like:
Saturday, Jan. 13
NFC: (6) Atlanta at (1) Philadelphia (13-3), 4:35 p.m. ET (NBC)
AFC: (5) Tennessee at (1) New England (13-3), 8:15 p.m. ET (CBS)
Sunday, Jan. 14
AFC: (3) Jacksonville at (2) Pittsburgh (13-3), 1:05 p.m. ET (CBS)
NFC: Panthers/Saints at (2) Minnesota (13-3), 4:40 p.m. ET (Fox)
You can follow along with the Panthers-Saints game right here. Below, you'll find our live-blog from Sunday's first game.