MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – Senior writer John Oehser and senior correspondent Brian Sexton both offer three quick thoughts on the Jaguars’ 17-7 victory over the Miami Dolphins at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla., Sunday…
1. This victory had many storylines, but one stood apart: heart. When the Jaguars allowed an easy 78-yard touchdown drive on the Dolphins’ first possession, this felt like a possible one-sided Dolphins victory. Instead, the Jaguars’ defense played one of its best games of the season – and the offense defense scratched and clawed enough for the Jaguars to win for a second time in four games. A legitimate pre-game question was how much the Jaguars would want this game. They have long since been eliminated from the postseason and a slew of injuries means this offense looks nothing like it looked entering the season. The Jaguars also had lost nine of 10 games entering Sunday, and a skid like that can cut the heart from a team. The Jaguars’ effort and focus was there Sunday. Several players – linebacker Myles Jack and defensive tackle Abry Jones among them – talked afterward of hoping this victory put to rest the idea that the Jaguars had quit in the second half of the season. People will believe what they choose, but Sunday’s Jaguars team absolutely had heart. And it sure didn’t quit.
2. He’s back – and quarterback Blake Bortles deserves this moment. Bortles, after being benched in favor of Cody Kessler earlier this month, replaced an ineffective Kessler Sunday late in the third quarter. A game that was tied 7-7 at that point resulted in the Jaguars’ second victory in the last four games. Bortles’ statistics for the game – five-of-six passing for 39 yards with four rushes for 25 yards -- weren’t overwhelming, and his lone scoring drive stalled in the red zone and resulted in a field goal. At the same time, that field goal came on 10-play, 51-yard drive that Bortles keyed with two runs for 27 yards. When linebacker Telvin Smith returned an interception 33 yards on the ensuing series, the Jaguars’ defense had all the points it needed. Did Bortles “win” Sunday’s game for the Jaguars? Who knows? For that matter, who cares? He has been a class act for five seasons in Jacksonville. If these last two games mark his last with the Jaguars, good for him that he got Sunday’s moment as part of that farewell.
3. Give the defense massive credit for Sunday – particularly defensive end Calais Campbell. As mentioned earlier, this game had all the earmarks of a one-sided victory early. The Dolphins’ game-opening scoring drive looked easy – and it was easy to assume the Jaguars hadn’t come ready to play. The reality was dramatically different: the defense allowed the Dolphins just 105 yards after the game-opening drive, with Smith clinching the game with the defense’s second touchdown of the season – a 33-yard interception return to give the Jaguars a 17-7 lead. The Jaguars also sacked Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill three times with Campbell, defensive end Yannick Ngakoue and defensive tackle Malik Jackson all registering a sack; Campbell also forced a fumble and had a pressure that led to Smith’s Pick Six. Cornerback Jalen Ramsey wasn’t sure afterward if it was the Jaguars’ best defensive game of the season, noting that the Jaguars shut out the Indianapolis Colts earlier this month. Still, it was an impressive **
1. Credit Campbell and Ngakoue for the defensive energy Sunday. The Dolphins drove the length of the field, seemingly with little effort, on the game’s opening drive and you could feel the doubt starting to creep onto the sidelines. But the Pro Bowl defensive linemen roamed the sidelines, and kept everyone’s spirits and belief high. Campbell told me in the locker room after the game that film study this week gave them a strong sense they could shut down Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill and the Miami offense. The Dolphins mixed things up on the opening drive and kept the Jaguars off balance, but after that drive – for the remaining 54 minutes and 49 seconds – the defense held them to only 105 yards and they didn’t drive into Jacksonville territory again. Campbell and Ngakoue deserve a ton of credit it for the way they reacted to their teammates after the Miami score.
2. The best quarterback on the Jaguars roster is Bortles. The move to bench him may have cost the Jaguars a chance to win at least the Redskins game, and he is so very clearly a better player than Cody Kessler. In recent weeks I was willing to give the benefit of a beaten-up offensive line to Kessler but he was slow and indecisive Sunday even when he did have time. On his first drive Bortles scrambled twice for 27 yards; on 2nd-and-18 he stood in the pocket under intense pressure and drilled wide receiver Donte Moncrief for a 19-yard completion. That drive ended with a field goal by Kai Forbath that turned out to be the game-winner after wide receiver Dede Westbrook was held in the end zone on third down. Bortles might not be the future, but if you want to win in the present he is the ONLY option.
3. Priority No. 1 after deciding who the quarterback is going to be in 2019 is to figure out his offensive linemen. There is just one starter among the group that played in Miami; you don’t expect right guard A.J. Cann or right tackle Jermey Parnell to return next season, which means the front office has work to do. Neither quarterback had adequate time to throw Sunday, and there was no room for running backs Leonard Fournette or Carlos Hyde to run between the tackles. If this team is going to run the ball, and Executive Vice President of Football Operations Tom Coughlin and Head Coach Doug Marrone aren’t likely to change philosophically, the Jaguars must get stronger up front. A LOT stronger.