— By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
For a little while, it felt like it was starting to happen again for the Jacksonville Jaguars. Could the Patriots really do this to them for the second time in three games? On the Jaguars’ home field?
After getting away with what should’ve been an easy flag, Jacksonville got the ball back with a flimsy 11-point lead and what felt like a very long 7:35 left to put New England away for good. Would they hand it off three times in an effort to grind the clock, only to meekly punt it back to the Patriots and give Tom Brady a chance to author yet another unstoppable comeback?
Different ending for the Jaguars this time. Instead, they simply kept doing what had worked for them for most of the afternoon. Blake Bortles dropped back and comfortably fired the ball to an open Dede Westbrook, who took the short catch 61 yards to the end zone. Bortles’ fourth touchdown of the game was the dagger for the Jaguars, who stayed true to their plan to stay aggressive without getting tentative. On a hot, humid afternoon in Jacksonville, it worked wonders for Bortles and head coach Doug Marrone in a decisive victory over Brady and Bill Belichick in the quarterback/coach battle.
For three of the past four games going back to the 2017 playoffs, the Patriots have run into an opponent with a strong gameplan on both sides of the ball. The Jaguars became the second team to execute their gameplan for an entire game and get the best of the Pats. Like the Eagles in Super Bowl LII, the Jaguars did not let up. They moved the ball and scored touchdowns and rarely stumbled. But more importantly, they stayed aggressive even when the situation may have normally called for something more conservative.
You can’t do that against the Patriots. You have to take chances and keep forcing the issue, even with what feels like a safe lead. Brady is never done until the 60 minutes are up.
It appears that Jacksonville learned that the hard way in January, and applied that to Sunday’s superlative effort.
Come to think of it, maybe Doug Marrone did watch that Super Bowl.
The Patriots had a major test on their hands against the Jaguars defense, so a low-scoring effort for them wasn’t shocking. Bortles delivered the true surprise of the day with a dominant afternoon, and it was the ultimate difference in the game. And even when it started to go a bit cock-eyed for the Jags, they didn’t stray from what they were doing well.
Stephon Gilmore made the first big play of the day for the Patriots defense in the third quarter, punching a ball loose to force a fumble that set up a Brady touchdown to Chris Hogan. The Jaguars still didn’t waver. They had to punt on the next possession, but it wasn’t for lack of aggressive play-calling. Donte Moncrief dropped what could have been a big completion after he got open downfield, then a rare third-down miss (they were 10-for-14 overall on third downs) gave the ball back to New England.
But the important thing for Jacksonville is that they didn’t gear down. The offense stayed on the offensive.
“That’s how we want to win,” center Brandon Linder said, via the Florida Times-Union. “That’s what we kept saying, ‘Don’t take your foot off the throat.’ That’s what we kept saying and we did that.”
Bortles took a risk throwing into tight coverage on his fourth-quarter interception, which was tipped into the hands of Kyle Van Noy. But even after the Patriots added three more points and turned the screws a bit tighter, still more aggression from Marrone and Bortles. A quick 16-yard catch-and-run for Corey Grant set them up at midfield, where Bortles eventually had to scramble and dive for the first down on third-and-5. A great stop by Gilmore and an illegal motion penalty set up another Jaguars punt, but that drive was still emblematic of how importantly the Jags treated their need to keep pushing on offense.
Then, the backbreaking sequence of possessions that led to the Westbrook touchdown.
As close as the game came to slipping away from the Jaguars in the second half, that almost certainly would’ve happened if they went into a shell the way they did in the AFC Championship Game. Scaling back is a surefire way to let Brady steamroll you in crunch time. If you’re going to blow the game, go down fighting.
They trusted Bortles to make plays from start to finish, even in tight spots with a dwindling lead. Not only did Bortles not blow the game, he had one of the best of his career.
Can the Jaguars repeat their performance if they meet the Patriots again in January? That wouldn’t be a safe bet. It’ll be important for the Jags to prove that they didn’t just treat this Week 2 game like it was the actual Super Bowl. Sunday was a great day for them, but they’re still a very long way away from proving that they’re the team to beat the big picture. But they at least showed that they learned from, and corrected, the biggest mistakes they made last time against New England.
They kept attacking, for 60 full minutes, and that’s the only way to even give yourself a chance against Brady and the Pats. And you still need to execute to capitalize on the opportunities you give yourself. Marrone did the first part, Bortles did the rest.
“They kind of did what we thought they were going to do and just executed well,” said Patriots safety Duron Harmon after the game. “We didn’t get off the field. We had them in third downs multiple times, and multiple times they picked it up. We just have to do a better job on third down and getting the offense off the field and everything will take care of itself. They just moved the ball. They had good, positive plays.”
Bortles kept it even-keeled after the impressive win. He’s not going to get ahead of himself, pump out his chest. His performance on the field did all the trash-talking the Jags needed.
“I walk in the same way after a win or a loss,” said Bortles. “I don’t try to show emotion one way or another. [Winning], it’s what we expect to do.”
For one game, especially on offense, the Jaguars provided the latest “blueprint” to beat the Patriots. The hope for New England is that no one else, especially Jacksonville, can replicate that in the winter.
Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at email@example.com.