A much-maligned quarterback going against a much-heralded QB. Chalk this one up to the underdog.
Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles has had more than his share of ups and downs since entering the NFL as the Jaguars' first-round draft selection in 2014. It's safe to say there have been more downs than ups for the former Central Florida standout.
That's not the case with New England quarterback Tom Brady. He's had the good fortune to play on five Super Bowl-winning Patriots teams and has been the recipient of numerous awards during his 18-year NFL career. Add in the fact that Brady had never lost to a Jacksonville team in eight previous meetings.
But the ninth such session for Brady and his Patriots teammates on Sunday at TIAA Bank Field proved to be different. There was not a fourth-quarter comeback like Brady had done on 54 occasions throughout his career, including last January when he threw a pair of touchdown passes in the final 10 minutes to rally the Patriots to a 24-20 win the AFC Championship Game. Bortles played well in that game, just not at a Brady-like clip.
Flip the script for Sunday's game. Bortles played one of the best games of his career. His 377 yards were the third-highest total in his career but this time, he finished with a win. His two previous top marks of 381 and 382 yards both came in losing efforts. Ditto for his four TD passes. They rank just behind his all-time best of 5 but that, too, took place in a losing cause (at Tennessee, Dec. 6, 2015).
Bortles showed the importance he places on a win when he was asked if he had ever played a better game than what he showed on Sunday against the Patriots.
"I think anytime you win it is a good game," the fifth-year veteran said. "It's a good football team obviously so to beat them is a good win. I try to do whatever I can to make sure we can win, if it's throwing for 300 yards or getting us in the right run game checks or whatever it might be. It was definitely good for the most part today."
Bortles played a relatively clean game. He scrambled when needed (35 yards on six attempts) and was never sacked. Three of his scrambles (9-, 10- and 10-yard gains) came on third-down plays and each time he made it past the first-down markers.
His only mistake was an ill-advised pass in the fourth quarter when he tried to force a ball to tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins. The ball was batted up in the air and picked off by the Patriots at the Jaguars' 25-yard line. The Patriots had scored on their previous possession to cut the lead to 11 at 24-13 and now were within 25 yards of making it a one-score contest. But three plays later, Jaguars defensive end Dante Fowler broke in on Brady and knocked the ball out of the quarterback's hand. Fowler finished the play by falling on the ball and thus preventing the Pats from slicing further into the Jaguars lead.
After the teams exchanged punts, Bortles came up with his fourth score of the game, though much of the credit goes to receiver Dede Westbrook for his effort. Westbrook broke free on a slant pattern across the middle and Bortles hit him in stride. Westbrook headed to the sideline, where he dodged one defender, got a timely block from Keelan Coles and finished the 61-yard scoring play by making it to the end zone. That gave the Jaguars an 18-point lead again with just over seven minutes left in the game. New England managed another touchdown but by that time there was less than four minutes remaining and the Jaguars had finally recorded a win over the Patriots after eight consecutive losses.
The win came with a price, however, as the Jaguars learned on Monday that left tackle Cam Robinson had suffered a torn ACL and would be lost for the remainder of the season. Robinson is the second offensive starter to go out with a season-ending injury. Wide receiver Marqise Lee suffered a knee injury in the second preseason game and was put on IR several days later. Backup tackle Josh Wells took Robinson's spot in the lineup on the team's eighth play on its opening drive of the game. Wells is expected to continue as the starter at the left tackle spot.
"I've tried to prepare each week like I was going to play that week," Wells said. "It's a shame of what happened to Cam and I'm praying for him, I really am. But it is an opportunity now and the expectation is that you need to be ready to step in and help out. There's an expectation level around here between the coaches and everyone, just to be ready to play if called upon."
The Jaguars had escaped the injury bug a year ago, losing only starting wide receiver Allen Robinson to a torn ACL in the regular-season opener. A couple offensive linemen missed several games midway in the season due to injury and the only defensive starter to miss any time was linebacker Telvin Smith, who was out for two games with an injury.
In addition to losing two starters for the year, running back Leonard Fournette sat out Sunday's game with a hamstring injury. It doesn't appear to be a lingering type injury and Fournette could possibly play this Sunday, when the Jaguars host division rival Tennessee. Ironically, Fournette has now missed four of his first 18 games with the Jaguars but the team has won all four contests that he's sat out.
--LT Cam Robinson will miss the remainder of the 2018 season after suffering a torn ACL in Sunday's game against New England. The second-year player from Alabama started 15 games in his rookie season, missing one game due to an abdomen injury.
--WR Keelan Cole finished with 116 yards on seven catches against the Patriots, the third time in his career that he topped 100 yards in receptions. Cole's all-time high was 186 yards last year as a rookie in the Houston game, when he set a personal high of seven catches.
--QB Blake Bortles finished with a 111.1 rating on Sunday against the Patriots. It marked the 12th time since 2015 that he's posted a QB rating in triple figures. He did it five times in 2015 and again last year and had one such rating in 2016.
--WR Dede Westbrook's 61-yard reception for a touchdown in the fourth quarter on Sunday was easily a career best. The second-year former fourth-round draft pick posted his first catch for more than 30 yards. It was also his second NFL touchdown after posting just one a year ago in the seven regular-season games that he played in.
--DE Dante Fowler Jr. was credited with a sack, forced fumble and recovered fumble all on the same play in Sunday's game. Fowler now has three sacks of Patriots quarterback Tom Brady in Fowler's last two games. He sacked Brady in the AFC Championship Game a year ago, sat out the Jaguars' regular-season opener last week due to a suspension and then had the one sack this past Sunday.
--LB Leon Jacobs, who won the starting outside linebacker spot and thus gained the start a week ago against the Giants, was a healthy inactive this Sunday for the New England game. The Jaguars had decided to utilize a defensive package in which they went with five defensive backs nearly the entire game. That sent Jacobs to the inactive list compared to a backup linebacker as Jacobs doesn't play on special teams compared to the reserve backup linebackers.
--CB D.J. Hayden earned just his fourth NFL start in the last three years when he opened as the Jaguars' fifth defensive back, playing in place of Jacobs. Hayden started one game for Detroit a year ago and had two starts with Oakland the year before. The three previous seasons he started 23 games for the Raiders.
--TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins caught another touchdown pass on Sunday and this time it counted. The free-agent acquisition had a 4-yard reception from Bortles in the corner of the end zone near the end of the first half. He caught a 10-yard throw in the end zone from Bortles in Week 1 but the catch and score were nullified due to a hands-to-the-face call on LG Andrew Norwell.
--DE Yannick Ngakoue, expected to be among the Jaguars' most productive members of the defensive unit, had his second straight non-productive game on paper. Ngakoue, who finished with 12 sacks a year ago, has been credited with just one tackle in two games thus far.
--RB T.J. Yeldon earned his first start since the 2016 season by gaining the nod over the injured Leonard Fournette. Yeldon led the team in rushing for the second week in a row, gaining 58 yards after a 51-yard effort the week before.