JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — One Jaguars player sang gospel on his way into the locker room following Jacksonville’s 31–20 win against New England. Telvin Smith shouted “2–0 and doing God’s work. “Another Jags player confidently repeated “they’re f----- soft” three times on his way into the winning locker room.
Make no mistake: this doesn’t erase what happened in January in Foxboro when the Jags missed out on their best chance to get to their first Super Bowl. But Jacksonville’s handling of the defending AFC champs proves to any remaining doubters that the Jaguars are not one-hit wonders.
Pick any impressive stat from Sunday’s game. There was the 116 receiving yards for Keelan Cole. A 111.1 quarterback rating for Blake Bortles, besting Tom Brady. Holding Rob Gronkowski to two catches for 15 yards. Getting 104 rushing yards without Leonard Fournette. All impressive. But most was withstanding a second-half momentum turn that they couldn’t stave off in Foxboro.
Visions of the AFC title game danced in the heads of those watching the fourth quarter in Jacksonville. Midway through the third quarter the Patriots got the first turnover of the game when Stephon Gilmore punched the ball out of rookie receiver D.J. Chark’s grasp. That gave the Pats the ball at midfield, and eight plays later New England got into the end zone for its first touchdown of the game.
“‘Here they come! Here they come!,’” Smith told me after the game. “When situations occur and things that have happened start to reoccur, you have to address them and assess them right then. That’s what we did. We understood what was coming. But at the same time it’s still players making plays. That’s all we knew, that had to keep stopping them because we were going to make a play. That’s the mindset of our defense.”
Dante Fowler Jr. stemmed the tide three minutes into the fourth quarter when he strip-sacked Brady and recovered the fumble with the game at 24–13. That energized Jacksonville, but the Jags still needed the offense to score again. Doug Marrone and offensive coordinator Nathanial Hackett had been accused of being too conservative late in last year’s playoff game, taking their foot off the gas to protect a two-score lead. So when the Patriots opted against going for fourth-and-one deep in their own territory with eight minutes left, the Jaguars dialed up a pass to Dede Westbrook that, with the help of a Cole block downfield, took the Jaguars 61 yards for the dagger.
The main attraction for every Jaguars game has become Jalen Ramsey, the all-world cornerback who apparently spent all summer trash-talking most of the league’s star players. Ramsey was in the ear of nearly every Patriot player who crossed him Sunday (please let NFL Films have him mic’d up), though he was much more muted in his postgame press conference. Dressed in blue slacks, an open white Gucci jacket and two diamond-encrusted necklaces bearing his personalized logo, Ramsey did not beat his chest for the cameras.
By my count, Brady went 4-for-4 for 28 yards when targeting receivers being covered by or in Ramsey’s area. Three of those throws came in zone coverage, and the only time Brady threw Ramsey’s way in man coverage was a seven-yard touchdown to Chris Hogan where Ramsey gave Hogan inside leverage. Given the opportunity to brag about how little Brady targeted him, Ramsey declined.
“It was just how the flow of the game went,” he said. “Sometimes you’re tested a lot, sometimes you’re not as much. Yeah, I don’t think about that too much.”
To top off the efforts, Bortles had one of the the best games of his career in the win, going 29-of-45 for 377 yards, four touchdowns and one interception as he consistently put together sustained drives. The Jaguars were 10-for-14 on third downs with Bortles going 7-for-9 passing for 76 yards and rushing the five other times for 38 yards.
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Many in the Jags’ locker room wanted to crow about the win. Several made a point to say how many new media members faces were in the crowd. And everyone was fiercely defensive and laudatory of their quarterback.
“They can say what they want but I mean the dude is phenomenal,” safety Tashaun Gipson said. “When the dude is on, he is on. For all the negativity people want to say and surround about Blake, at the end of the day, he has won football games and right now he is 2–0 as our starting quarterback. He went out there and dominated and played a damn near perfect game. As a defense, that is all you can ask your quarterback for. He played lights out.”
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