JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The sting and hurt that resonated through the city of Jacksonville and throughout the Jaguars locker room for the past eight months was softened Sunday.
Bolstered by a raucous sellout crowd of 68,527, the Jaguars raced to a 24-3 lead midway in the third quarter, survived two quick Patriots scores in less than three minutes, and then used the second longest pass completion in the last two-plus seasons to cement the win.
It had special meaning for the Jaguars, who had never beaten Tom Brady.
The Jaguars’ win helped discard the bitter feelings that had harbored throughout the city since last January when the Jaguars blew a 20-10 lead with less than 10 minutes left in the AFC Championship game in New England. Brady led the Patriots to a pair of touchdowns in the final 10 minutes, including the game winner with just 2:48 remaining to rob the Jaguars of an opportunity to play in their first-ever Super Bowl.
“This was a big win for us and obviously the crowd played a big part in it. Our players feed off of that,” Jaguars coach Doug Marrone said. “We felt real comfortable with our game plan. We were real focused all week and the players did a nice job in executing the plan. But like I told our players, this is only the second week of the season and we’ve got a lot of work ahead of us. We’ve got a division opponent next week, we’ll enjoy this one, make our corrections and move on.”
Excuse the Jaguars if they don’t enjoy the win a little longer than the normal 24-hour period that is allotted to wins before putting the game behind them and focusing on the next opponent. New England has dominated the AFC for the past two decades with 15 divisional titles in the last seven years and five Super Bowl crowns during that time.
During those same 17 years, the Jaguars made it to the playoffs four times, with the Patriots knocking them out on three occasions.
But Sunday it was the Jaguars who delivered the knockout punch. And it was led by the much-maligned Bortles, who still gets little respect from national media.
All Bortles did in this game was complete 29-of-45 passes for 377 yards, four touchdowns and post a rating of 111.1. It was his third highest passing yardage total and tied for second his touchdown total.
He jump-started the Jaguars offense by leading them to a pair of first-quarter scores with a 4-yard pass to Donte Moncrief and a 24-yard connection with Keelan Cole. He added a third TD just before halftime, connecting with Austin Seferian-Jenkins from four yards out with nine seconds left before intermission.
His final TD pass came on a short slant across the middle to Dede Westbrook midway in the fourth quarter. Westbrook caught it in stride, broke tackles when he angled toward the sidelines and then sprinted towards the goal line to complete the 61-scoring play.
Bortles said he liked the way the Jaguars offense is coming together, especially second-year receivers Cole and Westbrook.
“It’s been cool to watch them grow kind of on a day-to-day basis,” Bortles said. “They continue to learn more and more. Obviously by what they did today, I thought it was pretty awesome and incredible. It makes my job easy just kind of getting them the ball and letting them do what they do after the catch.”
While the Jaguars were producing some 481 yards in offense, the defensive unit was solid with its effort to keep Brady in control. The Patriots leader finished with good numbers by completing 24-of-35 passes for 234 yards and two scores. But the Jaguars forced the Patriots into four punts and three field goal attempts (two were successful) and ended a Patriots drive at the Jacksonville 36 when they sacked Brady, knocked the ball free and recovered it. That kept Brady’s average gain per pass to 5.9 yards.
“We were trying to play tight coverage on them and get [Brady] to hold the ball a little bit longer,” Marrone said. “He’s the greatest quarterback ever to play and I mean that in a genuine statement, he’s unbelievable. We wanted to get some pressure on him, get some tough windows. I don’t think there’s anything you can do to him that he hasn’t seen before.”
After the Jaguars had built their lead to 24-3 midway in the third quarter, Brady directed the Pats on a 48-yard march in six plays to the end zone, connecting with Chris Hogan from seven yards out for the score. That came with just under two minutes remaining in the third quarter.
New England then forced the Jaguars into their only 3-and-out series of the game. The Patriots used a 27-yard Brady to James White pass play to get to the Jaguars 32 but settled for a Stephen Gostkowski field goal.
Two plays later, the Patriots picked off a Bortles pass at the Jaguars 25-yard line. But any thoughts of cutting further into the Jaguars 11-point lead at that time ended prematurely when Dante Fowler knocked the ball out of Brady’s hand and recovered it. Following an exchange of punts, the Jaguars hit on the 61-yard bomb to Westbrook with 7:48 remaining to effectively put the game out of reach.
“We just obviously didn’t do anything well enough or close to well enough to be able to take a win today,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. “It’s disappointing to have the kind of day that we had today, but that’s what it was, so we’ll live with it, own it and move on.”
Brady said the Patriots had talked about getting off to a fast start and had some opportunities which they failed to capitalize on.
“They’re a good team good defense, and we’ve got to play a lot better than we played today,” Brady said. “I think we were here to win and play a lot better. I think everyone needs to do a better job and that was definitely not our best effort. And, I give [the Jaguars] a lot of credit, they played good. You know, they make it tough on you on our offense their defense and you know, we just couldn’t string our plays together.”
The Patriots will try to get back on track next Sunday night when they travel to Detroit to meet the Lions. The Jaguars, in the midst of a three-game home stand, will play against AFC South Division rival Tennessee next Sunday.