Patriots vs. Jaguars final score, takeaways: Jacksonville, Bortles make statement with dominant win
The Jaguars took down the Patriots eight months after blowing a 10-point lead in the AFC title game
Maybe the Jaguars were right. Maybe if not for a bad call in the fourth quarter, they would've been the team representing the AFC in last season's Super Bowl. Maybe the Jaguars would've won the 2017 AFC title game had the officials not blown that one play dead, prohibiting Myles Jack from returning a fumble the distance. Maybe the Jaguars were actually better than the Patriots a season ago, but got screwed.
There's no way we'll ever know, but what we do is that the Jaguars are good enough to beat the Patriots this year, which means they're good enough to win the AFC. We know that because it's what they did on Sunday.
On Sunday, in the hottest NFL game in 15 years, the Jaguars came out sizzling, beat up on the Patriots early, looked like the best team in football for a half, and then survived a rocky second half that started to look oddly familiar. Unlike last January, the Jaguars didn't get Tom Brady'd. They did enough to stop the greatest quarterback of all time from engineering yet another miraculous comeback.
In the end, the Jaguars won 31-20 to push their record to 2-0 and just as importantly, confirm that they're a legitimate contender in the AFC. The Patriots were outplayed in every aspect of the game. The Jaguars' defense got after Brady early and often. As a result, Brady looked skittish in the pocket, even when pressure was slow to arrive. Without Leonard Fournette -- absent with a hamstring injury -- the Jaguars let Blake Bortles sling the ball around, and it worked. Bortles shredded the Patriots' defense. He outplayed Brady.
And then -- and this might be the most important takeaway -- the Jaguars protected their lead. They didn't let themselves get Brady'd again. There were a few scary moments as the Patriots mounted what appeared to be an inevitable come-from-behind win, but the Jaguars came away with a few important plays to stymie the comeback.
A year ago, the Jaguars outplayed the Patriots for three quarters and then curled up into a ball for the final 15 minutes, hoping the clock alone would stop Brady. On Sunday, the Jaguars outplayed the Patriots for a half, let the Patriots back into the game, and then crushed the Patriots' comeback. They didn't get conservative at the end of the game. They kept on throwing when plenty of teams would've been content running clock.
Give credit to head coach Doug Marrone, offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett, the Jaguars' entire defense, and of course, Bortles. When Bortles plays the way he did, the Jaguars are a legitimate Super Bowl threat.
That's what Sunday told us -- not to mention that a game like this could matter come winter, when the Jaguars and Patriots are fighting for home-field advantage in the playoffs. Last year, the AFC title game was in Foxborough. This year, it's conceivable the Patriots could be forced to return to Jacksonville. There's still a long ways to go and the Jaguars need to match the Patriots' consistency over the course of the season, but this is a result that could shape the race for the AFC's top seed.
Onto the rest of the takeaways.
Bortles was the best QB on the field
About Bortles. We spent the summerthe Jaguars could make to bring in a better quarterback, but if the Jaguars get this version of Bortles from here on out, they don't need to bring in a good quarterback. They might have one already.
On Sunday, Bortles was the best quarterback on the field. He completed 29 of 45 passes for 377 yards, four touchdowns, one pick, and a 111.1 passer rating. He wasn't sacked and got hit only four times, so give the Jaguars' line credit for keeping their quarterback safe.
But this game was all about Bortles, who also rushed for 35 yards on six attempts.
His afternoon started with a perfect touchdown pass to Donte Moncrief. The Patriots stacked the box, just daring Bortles to beat them through the air.
So, he did.
On the Jaguars' second series, Bortles threw his second touchdown pass, this one a deep shot to Keelan Cole down the sideline. And that's how the Jaguars built a 14-0 lead.
Late in the first half, the Patriots got on the board with a field goal. But before halftime, the Jaguars extended their lead to 18 points with a 13-play, 75-yard drive that Bortles polished off with his third touchdown.
That's a first-half hat-trick:
The Patriots would fight back, trimming the deficit to 11 points. And it felt like they'd find a way to slip past the Jaguars. But Bortles' fourth and final touchdown of the game, which was less about him and all about Dede Westbrook, sealed the win.
Bortles did throw a pick early in the fourth quarter when he forced a pass into tight coverage, but his defense bailed him out. Speaking of that defense ...
Jaguars defense slows down Brady, Gronk
That's what kind of day it was for the Patriots' offense.
The Jaguars got after Brady immediately, pressuring and hitting him on the first series. For the duration of the first half, Brady looked uncomfortable in the pocket, as if he was expecting pressure to arrive at a moment's notice. Brady finally got going later in the game, throwing a pair of touchdowns to Chris Hogan in the second half, but he was unable to lift the Patriots out of a hole he helped dig.
The Jaguars also shut down Rob Gronkowski, who caught only two passes for 15 yards. Brady, meanwhile, finished 24 of 35 for 234 yards, two touchdowns, no picks, and a 106.1 passer rating. He was sacked twice. He didn't throw an interception, but he did lose a fumble that swung the game.
After Bortles got picked off early in the fourth quarter, the Patriots, trailing by 11 at the time, had an opportunity to trim the deficit to one score. Instead, Brady fumbled when Dante Fowler broke free and knocked the ball loose.
That's the kind of big play the Jaguars couldn't manufacture a year ago during Brady's two fourth-quarter scoring drives.
Belichick's curious decision to punt proves to be costly
With just over eight minutes remaining, the Patriots trailed by 11 and faced a third-and-5 deep in their own territory. Brady hit James White on a swing pass and White dove toward the first-down marker to pick up what appeared to be a fresh set of downs. But Marrone challenged the spot, and won.
Instead of going for a fourth-and-short, Belichick opted to punt.
Sure enough, that's when Bortles decided to throw his fourth touchdown, which iced the game.
Adding insult to injury was that the Jaguars appeared to jump offside before the snap, but the Patriots didn't flinch or snap the ball to draw a penalty. On the sideline, Belichick was spotted yelling at a player. We can only assume he was frustrated that nobody on his punt team decided to take the free first down the Jaguars offered them.
Three Jaguars break out
The Jaguars let Allen Robinson walk in free agency, so they're short on quality skill-position players. Three players impressed against the Patriots, though.
You already saw the touchdown Cole caught. Now, take a look at what might be the catch of the season so far:
Cole wound up with seven receptions, 116 yards and one score.
The second breakout performer was running back Corey Grant, who rushed for 13 yards on four carries, but added 56 yards through the air. Even when Fournette returns, he can be a dangerous weapon coming out of the backfield.
Finally, there's Westbrook, who scored the touchdown to put away the Patriots for good and finished with 83 receiving yards.
Are the Jaguars better without Fournette?
The 2017 first-round pick -- who the Jaguars drafted over players like Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson -- didn't play due to a hamstring injury he picked up in the team's Week 1 win over the Giants. Replacing him were Grant and T.J. Yeldon (who averaged 5.8 yards per carry).
What was notable was that the Jaguars seemed more willing to let Bortles drop back instead of pounding the ball with Fournette. And that begs the question: Are the Jaguars better without Fournette?
Leonard Fournette has missed 4 career games.#Jaguars are 4-0 in them with point totals of:— Evan Silva (@evansilva) September 16, 2018
27 (31.5-point average)
Since drafting Leonard Fournette at #4 overall, the Jaguars are 4-0 with a +92 point differential in games he's missed— Ben Baldwin (@benbbaldwin) September 16, 2018
If the Jaguars are, it's not because Fournette is a bad player, it's because it forces them to be more aggressive with Bortles. When Fournette returns, the Jaguars should remain as aggressive as they were on Sunday.
Jaguars lose Cam Robinson
On the Jaguars' first series, left tackle Cam Robinson went down with a knee injury. He did not return to the game. That could end up being a blow moving forward, depending on the severity of the injury.
Robinson, drafted in the second round a year ago, started 15 of 16 games during his rookie season.
Patriots lose Trey Flowers, Patrick Chung
The Patriots lost a player of their own on that same series. Before Robinson went down, defensive end Trey Flowers was involved in a collision in the backfield. He was ruled out with a concussion.
Later in the game, the Patriots also lost safety Patrick Chung to a concussion.
The Patriots' defense already isn't that talented even when at full strength. So, those injuries are worth monitoring as the Patriots move onto Week 3.
The Patriots (1-1) will look to rebound against Matt Patricia and the Lions (0-2) in Detroit on "Sunday Night Football" while the Jaguars host the Titans (1-1). Both teams should expect to win their Week 3 matchups.
Then again, did anyone predict that Bortles would outplay Brady on Sunday?
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