PITTSBURGH, Pa. – Perhaps it's time to stop knocking Blake Bortles – and the Jaguars' offense, too.
That was a theme for Bortles' teammates following a 45-42 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers in an AFC Divisional Playoff Sunday, but as far the fourth-year quarterback is concerned …
Well, it's just not a topic he finds pertinent. Not even Sunday.
"I've said it a bunch all year: I could care less what anybody in here says about me, or what anybody in the world says about me,'' Bortles said after completing 14 of 26 passes for 214 yards to move the Jaguars into the AFC Championship Game for the first time in 18 seasons.
Bortles completed seven of 12 passes for 131 yards and a touchdown in the second half, with the Jaguars scoring 17 fourth-quarter points to hold of a Steelers rally.
"I've said it before, 'He's the same guy;' he's competitive as hell," Jaguars Head Coach Doug Marrone said of Bortles, who also rushed for 35 yards on seven carries Sunday. "He was able to run for yardage. He was able to throw the ball and put us in good situations.
"There are a lot of things going on that he did a heck of a job with."
Bortles hit wide receiver Keelan Cole with 45-yard pass to the Steelers 3 to set up one Jaguars fourth-quarter touchdown, a three-yard run by running back Leonard Fournette.
Images form the AFC Divisional Round as the Jaguars travel to Pittsburgh to take on the Steelers.
"For some reason, everybody wants to question, 'Oh, Blake Bortles and the offense…''' Jaguars defensive tackle Malik Jackson said. "We did enough to win last week [in a 10-3 Wild Card victory over Buffalo] and we did more than enough to win this week.''
Said Jaguars safety Barry Church, "I'm so proud of Blake and what he did today. He exposed a very bad defense and he did what he had to do. He carried us this week."
Bortles also threw a 14-yard fourth-quarter touchdown pass to fullback Tommy Bohanon.
"I don't want to be the one to say I told you so, but 'I told you so,''' Jaguars tight end Marcedes Lewis said. "Blake has taken the onus when we've taken defeats and he should get some sort of recognition when we win."
Bortles at various times this season has been criticized by not only media but opponents. Seahawks safety Earl Thomas referred to him as a subpar quarterback and Texans defensive end Jadeveon Clowney called him "trash."
Both comments came after Jaguars victories in December and neither the Seahawks nor the Texans qualified for the postseason.
"This is the type of stuff you dream of, to get a chance to play in games like this," Bortles said. "It will never change for me. Everybody's in the NFL here. It's the highest level of football there is in the world. It's tough to say somebody's not a good player, that somebody's trash, or somebody's this.
"I'm just happy to win. … I'm happy to be able to continue to play for another week. There are a lot of guys sitting home on the couch watching this, wishing they could play.
"To continue to have success is pretty awesome."
The Jaguars' No. 1-ranked running offense had one of its best games of the second half of the season Sunday, running for 164 yards after rushing for 231 yards in a victory over the Steelers in October. Fournette rushed for 109 yards and three touchdowns despite leaving the game in the second quarter with an ankle injury and returning for the second half. "I thought he was running extremely well and hard and getting a lot of the extra push we needed and putting us in manageable situations," Marrone said, adding, "We were talking all week about strain and finish. I didn't think we were doing a very good job of that in past weeks. Everyone was able to see that. I thought today they [the Jaguars' offensive line] were up to the challenge against a very solid front seven.'' Of Fournette's injury, Marrone said: "We took him in at halftime not knowing what was going to happen. The doc came out and said, 'We're re-taping him. He wants to go.' I came in to see him and said, 'How are you doing?' He said, 'I'm ready.' That was it. That was the only conversation we had.''
"Coming up here the second time it's always difficult to do and win. Our guys did a nice job. Our coaches did a good job. Our players did a nice job. Basically, we earned the right to play another 65 plays next week. We'll get back home and get back to work.''
--Jaguars HC Doug Marrone
"They [Jaguars players] had a good sense of themselves. There seemed to be a level of confidence [in the second half] that they were going to be able to do it. They didn't seem to be rattled."
---Marrone on the Jaguars in the second half
"I'm not thinking about it. I don't want any of those thoughts. It's out of my head right now. I want to enjoy this and see what we have to do to get better and then we'll get ready to play New England."
---Marrone on playing the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship Game Sunday
"We did the damned thing. They [the Steelers] want to say they're beasts and they're werewolves. I don't think werewolves exist, but if they want to fictional characters, they're more like unicorns. We came in here and socked them in the mouth. They can think about that the whole offseason."
"We're bullies. We don't need to say we're bullies. We don't need to talk about what we're going to do. We just need to smack you in the mouth, just like we did today. They talked. They said what they were going to do. They didn't do anything. They waited for the teacher to come break everything up."
"Once they started talking all that noise, and all the media talking about this game … they acted like we didn't destroy this team the first time around. That's why you play the game. We came out here and won. We literally dominated this team the first time. People acted like we barely won the first time. We came in here and dominated these fools. … That wasn't a fluke. 30-9? That's not a fluke."
"The fans traveling … a dude told me he drove five hours through the snow to get up here. Shoutout to him and shoutout to everybody from Jacksonville who drove up: 'We definitely felt ya'll.' They definitely gave out some Duval chants."
--Linebacker Myles Jack