EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – They knew.
They weren’t quite sure how they knew but make no mistake: the idea of a game-turning interception was on the collective minds of Jaguars defensive players early in the fourth quarter Sunday before it happened.
“We were saying, ‘Somebody’s going to get a pick,’’’ Jaguars cornerback A.J. Bouye said.
Linebacker Telvin Smith, “It’s crazy, because when we were huddled up, that’s what we were talking about. We said, ‘We’re fixing to get it and score. It’s fixing to happen right now. Everybody meet at the end zone and let’s do it.’’’
Which is exactly what they did.
Linebacker Myles Jack not only intercepted a pass from Giants quarterback Eli Manning that defensive tackle Abry Jones deflected, he returned it 32 yards for what became the game-winning touchdown with 11:24 remaining in a 20-15 season-opening victory at MetLife Stadium Sunday.
“That’s just defense being defense and making plays,” Smith said.
Jack said the Jaguars were playing man-to-man defense on the play with him acting as the free player in coverage and reading the coverage.
“I really just kind of reaped the benefits of Telvin’s play,” said Jack, who has scored two career touchdowns in two games at MetLife Stadium having also returned a fumble for a touchdown against the New York Jets last season.
Bouye said he thought he had the interception had the ball not been tipped to Jack.
“Luckily, Myles made it and we go to the end zone,” Bouye said.
The interception gave the Jaguars a 20-9 lead that the Giants immediately cut to 20-15 when running back Saquon Barkley ran 68 yards for a touchdown and the biggest play by the New York offense Sunday. The Jaguars forced a three-and-out on the ensuing series when Bouye and nickel corner D.J. Hayden stopped Barkley just short of the first down on a pass from Manning on third and four.
The Giants drove to the Jaguars 36 on the ensuing possession, but safety Barry Church and Hayden defensed passes on 3rd- and 4th-and 6 from there.
Those were huge defensive plays, but the season-opening victory will be remembered for the Jaguars’ eighth defensive touchdown since the beginning of last season – a play the Jaguars’ defense anticipated before it happened.
“That’s the way we like to do: we feel like we’re so talented on defense that we have defensive backs who can score, linebackers who can score and even defensive linemen who can create strip-sack fumbles and score,” Jack said. “We don’t put any pressure on the offense. If the offense scores, that’s even more onus on us. We try to create points.”
The Jaguars finished with 304 yards offensively Sunday, struggling after second-year running back Leonard Fournette left with a hamstring injury. “It’s a huge loss,” quarterback Blake Bortles said of Fournette. “Everybody knows what kind of player he is, what he brings to the table and what he brings to our offense. We miss him, but I think [reserve running backs] T.J. [Yeldon] and Corey [Grant] did a good job of adjusting.” While they drove 57 yards for their lone offensive touchdown on the drive immediately after Fournette’s injury, the Jaguars managed 120 total yards after that. Forty-one of those yards came on a keeper by Bortles. “We have a lot of faith in T.J. Yeldon, and we don’t feel like we’re limited in what we want to do,” Head Coach Doug Marrone said. “At the same time, when you lose someone like Leonard it hurts. We’re much better when we have both of them than when we just have one. There’s no doubt that. But T.J. is a heck of a running back and he can carry the load if we need him to.”
Penalties were understandably a major post-game topic – not only for Marrone, but for Jaguars players, too. The Jaguars on Sunday were penalized 11 times for 119 yards. Left tackle Cam Robinson was penalized three times for 25 yards and pass interference penalties of 20 yards on Church and 15 yards on cornerback Jalen Ramsey defending Giants All-Pro widereceiver Odell Beckham Jr. led to a Giants second-quarter field goal. Penalties on defensive end Yannick Ngakoue (face mask) and Tashaun Gipson (holding) led to a third-quarter Giants field goal. “We’ve got to clean up our penalties; that’s the biggest thing,” Smith said. “Before you look at the great things we do, we have to address the bad things we did. We had more penalty yards than Odell had receiving. We have to clean that up and we’ll have a better game.”
Bortles held no illusions. Yes, the 41-yard third-quarter that flipped field position was the longest of his 63-game NFL career. But although the fifth-year veteran momentarily broke free on a read-option keeper from the Jaguars 9, he never thought about scoring. Asked about “taking it to the house,” he smiled. “This isn’t high school,” he said. “I went 30 yards, the hamstrings locked up and I got out of bounds.” Bortles in his career has rushed for 6.46 yards per carry, with only two quarterbacks in NFL history having a higher yards-per-rush: Michael Vick (7.00) and Bobby Douglass (6.4).
Marrone on defending the Giants: “It’s kind of like pick your poison – who you want to focus on – when you play this team. They have a lot of offensive weapons.”
Marrone on defensive end Lerentee McCray registering a sack Sunday: “That’s like a little bit of icing on top of that cake. We’ve got [defensive end Dante] Fowler [Jr.] coming back off the suspension [next week] and you’ve got a guy like Lerentee who can go in there and give you some rush. That helps.”
Marrone: “One thing our guys take a lot of pride in is if that ball pops up, there’s a pretty good shot we have a chance to come down with it. Myles is a heck of an athlete and he was able to catch that football and take it in, which was obviously a big play.”
Marrone: “The only thing I ask of Blake is one thing: I want to win the game. I don’t really ask him to do a lot of other things. We want to make sure we don’t turn the ball over, but we talk about that to everybody. That’s just not him. He happens to get that speech because he’s one of many people who touch the ball. All we’re looking for out of him is to win football games. He did a good job of that today.”
Bortles: “Everybody has a role in how we’re supposed to win football games. Mine is making sure we’re hitting the right run plays, delivering the ball, letting guys make plays and not turning it over – and keeping the wheels greased up and spinning. …”
Jack on Barkley’s 68-yard run: “He shook me out of my socks and ran down the sidelines. That’s pretty much what happened. He made a good move on me and I need to work on my tackling this week for sure.”
Bortles: “You never know how Week 1 is going to go. To come out and find a way to win when you didn’t necessarily have you’re a game as an offense, I think that’s pretty special.”
Church: “We want it with our backs against the wall. If it comes down to it, we want to be the unit that brings it home for us. Two minutes left, backs against the wall ... that’s what we live for every day …”