The Jacksonville Jaguars wanted revenge against the New England Patriots for last season’s AFC Championship Game, and after defeating the Pats 31-20, they have shown that they are very much in the Super Bowl discussion.
On an NFL Sunday marred by awful kicking and disastrous performances from the Arizona Cardinals and Buffalo Bills, whose cornerback Vontae Davis retired during the game, the Jacksonville Jaguars gave football fans something positive to chew on.
In last season’s AFC Championship Game, the Jaguars had the New England Patriots right where they wanted them, as they were leading 17-10 before the fourth quarter. But because Doug Marrone’s Jaguars weren’t aggressive enough early in the game, they couldn’t close things out, as Tom Brady and the Patriots came roaring back in the fourth quarter to punch their ticket into the Super Bowl.
There was no such comeback in the Jaguars’ Week 2 revenge game against New England.
Even without Leonard Fournette, who suffered a hamstring injury in Week 1 and did not practice all week, the Jaguars rolled to a 31-20 victory. They withstood a second-half charge from the resilient Patriots, partially because they learned their lesson from last season’s loss.
The Jaguars were firing on all cylinders from the get-go, and Blake Bortles’ dominant performance ensured that the Pats wouldn’t be able to bridge the gap later on. Bortles looked confident in reading through his progressions. He was sharp in the red zone, made few errors, kept his calm, and made liberal use of running back Corey Grant, who could be a rising star in the passing game in 2018.
It was awesome watching the Jaguars offense play at a high level without Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns. Keelan Cole looked like a legitimate star, hauling in over 100 receiving yards, which included an impressive one-handed snag that could go down as one of the best catches of the 2018 season when it’s all said and done.
Defensively, the Jaguars were as good as ever. Tom Brady wasn’t bad, but he was outdueled by Bortles, who notched 377 passing yards and four touchdowns against an outclassed Patriots secondary. Bortles didn’t need to use Fournette as a crutch in this game, while Brady found it difficult to generate big plays against a stingy Jaguars defense that had a lead to defend.
This win over the defending AFC Champions entrenches the Jaguars as one of the early season contenders for the Super Bowl. Jacksonville is “for real” as one of the teams to beat in the AFC, and anyone in the division or conference that wants to challenge them will have to bring their “A” game. These Jaguars are well-coached, and they showed no glaring weaknesses on Sunday, even without the former No. 4 overall pick in their backfield.
Even without Fournette, the Jaguars made some plays on the ground when they needed to, with former Alabama star TJ Yeldon scooping up 58 yards on just 10 carries. Bortles also played a key role on the ground, finishing with more rushing yards than the Patriots top guy, rookie Sony Michel.
The Jaguars are here to stay, especially if Bortles can keep playing this well. I cannot stress how phenomenal he was against New England from start to finish. He used Dede Westbrook, Keelan Cole, Donte Moncrief, running back Corey Grant, and talented tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins to the best of their abilities in the passing game.
This offense is scary, this defense has always been scary, and this coaching staff knows how to overcome a key injury to a star player while learning from its past mistakes. It will be exciting to see if the Jaguars can follow this up against other top teams in the AFC, but, first, they’ll have a chance to embarrass the reeling, rival Tennessee Titans in Week 3.