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View from the O-Zone: Worth the wait


JACKSONVILLE – The wait was worth it.

It's not always that way. Sometimes the joy of attaining doesn't match the anticipation of wanting and waiting. But in the case of the Jaguars' 10-3 victory over the Buffalo Bills in an AFC Wild Card playoff Sunday in front of a sold-out, towel-waving 69,422 at EverBank Field…

Well, yeah ...

The wait absolutely was worth it.

"It's magic; the playoffs are magical," defensive end Calais Campbell said after yet another close-the-door, seal-the-deal, flex-their-muscles performance by the Jaguars' defense.

Wait … magical? The victory Sunday at the 'Bank was nail-biting, nerve-wracking and heart-stopping. It also was ugly at times and hardly will be remembered in NFL lore as a masterpiece.

Images of the Jaguars Wild Card PLayoff game against the Buffalo Bills.

So, magical?

"Oh, yeah – it was very magical," Campbell said with a smile. "That was fun."

And you know what? As he has been throughout most of this special, still-not-over season, the Jaguars' defensive leader was right. Sunday was magical. And fun.

Were you there? Did you feel the energy? The passion?

The 'Bank had all of that and more on that dawned with a glorious, historic feel and fulfilled that feeling throughout a perfect, crisp afternoon on the banks of the St. John's River. Eighteen years …

That's how long it had been since the 'Bank hosted a postseason game. When Duval waits a couple of decades to party, the party is going to be memorable – and that absolutely was a big part of what made Sunday so good, and it was why Jaguars Head Coach Doug Marrone immediately after the game awarded a game ball to the city and the fans.

"We'll be giving a game ball to wherever the best place is, I guess City Hall, for the fans," Marrone said afterward. "I thought they were outstanding. The energy was just better than Coach [Tom] Coughlin described."

Marrone was referring to a conversation Coughlin – the Jaguars' head coach from 1999-2003 – had with the team before the season. Coughlin, now the team's executive vice president of football operations, at the time told players and coaches how fervent the fan base and the EverBank crowd could be when the team won.

It hasn't been that way in a long time. But it has been like that in the last three home games, and it darned sure was like that Sunday.

"It was fun," cornerback A.J. Bouye said. "The atmosphere was amazing. Our fans just brought the energy out. It's never been this loud before. The music, all of that. We gained momentum. Everything's not perfect, but we did what we needed to."

Sunday in a sense can be summed up by that last sentence: The victory over the Bills was a long way from perfect, but the Jaguars absolutely did what was needed.

The Jaguars won on Sunday for the reason they have won much of the season: because this defense is special. The Jaguars sacked Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor just twice, but they limited him to 27 yards on seven carries and didn't let his legs take over the game. They allowed the Bills to move past the Jaguars 40 just once, and they kept the Bills out of the end zone after they had first-and-goal on the 1 on that second-quarter drive.

The Bills had four possessions after the Jaguars scored to take a 10-3 lead. They never moved past the Jaguars 38. That was on their final possession, which Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey ended in fitting fashion – with as athletic an interception as has been seen in EverBank in a long time, perhaps ever.

None of which is to say Sunday victory was perfect – and the imperfect part starts with the offense and Blake Bortles.

Bortles, who looked very much like an ascending quarterback in early December, had one of his worst passing games of the season Sunday. He threw for 87 yards, and his accuracy at times looked as it did during his difficult 2016 season.

That's the downside of Bortles' first playoff appearance as an NFL quarterback. The upside is he rushed for 88 yards and made clutch plays on both Jaguars scoring drives. He threw for 29 yards and rushed for 20 more on an 86-yard drive that gave the Jaguars the lead in the third quarter.

Bortles was far from perfect or pretty, but he won – and that means the Jaguars will play the Pittsburgh Steelers in an AFC Divisional Playoff in Pittsburgh next Sunday. As was repeated over and again in the locker room, the winning part was what mattered for Bortles and for the team – and little else really does.

So, yes: Sunday at the 'Bank was emotional, nail-biting, nerve-wracking and all of those other anxiety-producing things. But it was magical, too.

And it was darned sure worth the wait.

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