JACKSONVILLE — It’s been 17 years since the Buffalo Bills’ last NFL playoff game. It’s also been 17 years since the Jacksonville Jaguars have hosted a postseason game, and it’s been a decade since the team’s last playoff game. On Sunday, both team’s respective playoff droughts showed.
Good football was hard to find at EverBank Field, but at least it was predictable football. The Bills, losers of 18 straight games when trailing going into the fourth quarter, made it 19 games. The Jaguars, winners of all eight games when Blake Bortles did not throw an interception in 2017, made it nine with their 10–3 victory.
Like much of this season, Jacksonville didn’t need much from Bortles—other than to not make any mistakes. He had more rushing yards than passing yards in the first half, where he looked scared and too conservative in the air. He tallied six first downs via passing and six with his legs in a 12-for-23 performance that featured 87 passing yards and 88 rushing yards on Sunday.
Half of Jacksonville’s wins this season came in games where Bortles had fewer than 20 completions, including two wins with games of eight and 11 completions. They haven’t needed much from Bortles other than begging him to not turn the ball over, something Tom Coughlin said early in his return to Jacksonville when faced with the fact that Bortles’s 63 turnovers since entering the league led all players.
Bortles responded this season with a career-low 13 interceptions this season, and he had only four games with multiple picks. The Jaguars went 8–0 in 2017 when Bortles threw no interceptions, and only one of those games was decided by one possession.
And where it counted the most, Bortles never made too costly an error. Including Sunday’s one-yard touchdown toss on fourth-and-goal, Bortles had 19 TD passes and zero interceptions in the red zone this season.
“It shows who Blake is,” Allen Hurns said. “No matter what happens he finds a way. No matter what happens during the course of a game, he has that belief that he can go down and lead us on any given drive. He wasn’t able to get it done in the passing game, but that’s on all of us. He made a lot of plays with his legs to continue drives.”
For Buffalo, the team was hampered by dizzying play calls from the staff and lack of aggression from Tyrod Taylor—two things that have plagued them all season.
The Bills’ final two first-half drives ended with puzzling throws by Taylor and even more puzzling play-calling from offensive coordinator Rick Dennison. On the second-to-last drive of the first half, a heavy dose of LeSean McCoy in the pass and run games carried Buffalo to the red zone, and after stalling at the three-yard line the Bills were set to kick a field goal. But the Jaguars lined up int he neutral zone, gifting the Bills the ball at the one.
Rather than punching it in with McCoy or human-bowling-ball Mike Tolbert, the Bills opted to throw to Kelvin Benjamin, who was going against top corner Jalen Ramey. At 6' 5", Benjamin has never been subtle about contact, and he was flagged for offensive pass interference to take the Bills back to the 11. Buffalo took another loss and by third-and-goal from the 13, Taylor sailed the ball past the only player who actually was covered. The Bills settled for three points instead of six.
“Yeah, you know, there’s some calls we want back. That’s probably one of them," head coach Sean McDermott said. "Just situationally right there more than anything.”
And on the final drive of the half, rather than rushing three times and forcing Jacksonville to use all its timeouts (or better, get the first down and go into halftime without a worry), the Bills opted to throw on second and third downs. Deonte Thompson dropped the second-down throw and Zay Jones was pushed out of bounds short of the sticks on third down.
Jacksonville took their two timeouts and let Bortles, miserable in the air all game no matter what the true wind conditions were, scramble twice to get into field goal range. Josh Lambo’s 44-yard field goal was good, knotting the game at 3–3—but the Bills could have very well been leading 7–0 at halftime, had there been more appropriate play-calling in those final four minutes.
Buffalo’s loss may signal the end of Taylor’s tenure as a Bill, as the team will surely look to upgrade the position in the offseason (he may look to get out after the Nathan Peterman fiasco, too). And for the Jaguars, a date with the Steelers looms next Sunday. It marks both a rematch of 2007 postseason victory in Pittsburgh and October’s 30–9 shellacking at Heinz Field where Ben Roethlisberger threw five interceptions.
You would assume the Jaguars would need more from their offense in next week’s divisional round, but all season just enough has been enough.