JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser and senior correspondent Brian Sexton both offer three quick thoughts on the Jaguars’ game against the New England Patriots at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville Sunday
1.So much for the Jaguars’ Blake Bortles-led offense being subpar – and so much for the receivers needing upgrading, too. Those were themes among many observers entering Sunday’s game, but the Jaguars stunned the Patriots – and evidently surprised much of the NFL world – by quick-striking their way to a convincing 31-20 victory. Bortles completed 29 of 45 passes for 377 yards and four touchdowns, and Nate Hackett – as he has done multiple times in his season-plus as the Jaguars’ coordinator – appeared to completely revamp his game plan after a comparatively conservative approach in Week 1. Bortles completed 17 of 25 passes Sunday in a stunningly effective first half in which he threw for 200 yards and three touchdowns, giving the Jaguars a 21-3 lead that the Patriots never cut below 11. It marked Bortles’ fourth consecutive huge regular-season home game, and he now has 12 touchdown passes with one interception at TIAA Bank Field during that span. The book on Bortles for far too long has been that the Jaguars must win despite him. That book needs to be closed, particularly when he’s playing at the ‘Bank.
2.This second quick thought isn’t just about Jaguars wide receiver Keelan Cole’s remarkable second-quarter reception, but a catch that spectacular is worth its own few sentences. Coles, who originally signed with the Jaguars as an undrafted rookie from Kentucky Wesleyan following the 2017 NFL Draft, turned in one of the most memorable catches in franchise history with his one-handed, clutch-the-nose-of-the-ball reception for a 22-yard gain late in the first quarter. The play energized the ‘Bank and was key to the Jaguars’ second touchdown drive – the one that ended with Cole catching a 24-yard pass from Bortles and disappearing into the same tunnel in which he disappeared after a game-turning touchdown in a December victory over Seattle last season. Too many people doubted this receiving corps in the offseason, and the group as a whole had a monster day Sunday: 16 receptions, 246 yards, three touchdowns. But Cole will deservedly be remembered and most-discussed among the group – in part for his seven receptions for 117 yards but mostly for a reception few who witnessed it will soon forget.
3.It’s no exaggeration to say there were too many Jaguars storylines Sunday to count, but here’s one that shouldn’t be forgotten: the Jaguars on Sunday won what they considered an important game, but they didn’t win a game that they considered otherworldly important. While many observers considered this perhaps the biggest regular-season game in franchise history, players and coaches took a far lower-key approach throughout the week. They for the most part kept that same even keel afterward, with Head Coach Doug Marrone and several players speaking far more about the importance of winning in front of a rabid home crowd than of making any sort of a statement with a victory over the defending AFC Champions. Veteran leader Calais Campbell laughed at the idea of this game having mega-importance, talking instead of a good feeling of beating a franchise and a player (Patriots quarterback Tom Brady) for whom he has great respect. The Jaguars won Sunday because they made key plays defensively and offensively when needed. But the thought here is they also won because they were ready to win – and because they approached the game with a maturity and professionalism that bodes well for what is to come.
1.What can you criticize Bortles for this week? Nothing. He completed 64 percent of his passes for 377 yards and four touchdowns. He ran the ball for 35 yards and converted three third downs with his legs as part of a 10-of-14 performance on third down. In short, he was more than Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick’s defense could handle. Tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins couldn’t say enough afterward about his quarterback and neither could wide receiver Keelan Cole, cornerback A.J. Bouye or middle linebacker Myles Jack. Center Brandon Linder said he didn’t need to say anything because “No. 5 just did it.” Bortles is probably never going to get the respect he deserves on a national stage, but he damn well should start getting it from Jaguars fans.
2.Defensive end Calais Campbell told me on the field post-game that defensive Dante Fowler Jr. told him before the game he was going to make a game-changing play. That’s the incredible advantage the Jaguars have with this defense: there are too many players capable of doing that for teams such as the Patriots, Tennessee Titans or Pittsburgh Steelers to scheme for. The most impressive part of Fowler’s play – a strip-sack fumble on 3rd-and-9 in the fourth quarter – was how he managed to fight through the hold of the offensive tackle who was trying to keep him from getting the football. When his team needed it the most, Fowler came up with a bang-bang play. That’s great news for the Jaguars and bad news for teams trying to navigate a defense that is like the Himalaya’s: another mountain to climb no matter which direction you head.
3.The offense can claim some of those mountains this week also. Cole’s one-handed catch in the first quarter deserves to be remembered with those made by Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr and NFL great Randy Moss. Moss, by the way, is Cole’s hero and he would rather it be compared to the Hall of Famer than OBK. Cole finished with seven catches for 116 yards and the game’s second touchdown. Running back Corey Grant was right there with Cole, carrying four times for 13 yards and catching six passes for 56 yards; nearly all of them moved the chains or put the Jaguars in a position to move the chains. Mix in a 61-yard game-clinching touchdown reception from Dede Westbrook, a touchdown reception from Seferian-Jenkins and another touchdown reception from Moncrief and you had waves of playmakers on the offensive side of the football.