JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – In December, playoff teams emerge, playing their best football and beating teams they’re supposed to beat. No upsets, no cliffhangers, just a professional job on the field, getting it done and moving on.
That’s what the Jaguars were doing in the first half against the Colts at home on Sunday. Opening the game on defense, the Jaguars forced a punt and followed that with an 11-play, 80-yard offensive drive capped by a TD pass from Blake Bortles to Marqise Lee for a 7-0 lead. The drive featured a fake-punt pass play at midfield from Brad Nortman to James O’Shaughnessy for 29 yards and a first down.
“We’ve worked on it,” Jaguars Head Coach Doug Marrone said of the fake punt call. “I always say, ‘Hey, listen if we work on it you have to have the ability to call it.’ I was going back and forth going into the game . Again, being able to go to the defense and say, ‘Hey listen, this is what I’m thinking of doing. Are you guys ok with it?’ ‘Hey coach, don’t worry about it, let’s go.’ I think that makes it a little bit easier.”
More solid defense helped the Jaguars win the field position battle and a 10-0 lead followed after a Josh Lambo 30-yard field goal from 30-yards out. The Colts followed with their best drive of the half, featuring good runs by Frank Gore and a silly face mask/horse collar penalty by Myles Jack. That led directly to three points, 10-3 Jaguars.
But again, in a very professional manner, the offense marched right down the field, much of it on Bortles arm to score a TD on their next possession. Very effective use of the three running backs on the drive complimented the play calling and Bortles throws. Leonard Fournette was doing the heavy lifting on the ground. Chris Ivory was called on for some tough yards inside and T.J. Yeldon caught the ball out of the backfield on a screen pass for a first down. Blake’s throw to Keelan Cole for the TD was a pretty pass and catch, for a 16-3 lead. The PAT was muffed because of a bad snap. After last week’s loss to Arizona, this game already looked different.
“I give a lot of credit to the fans that were out there,” said Marrone. “But make no mistake, this team has done a good job as far as bouncing back. They really came back after last week, really focused, we really had a good week of practice. We really prepared ourselves to be in a good situation.”
It’s become somewhat of a bad habit for the Jaguars defense to give up yards allow the other team to stop some of the momentum after the offense gets a score. That was the case at the end of the first half as the Colts were driving for a score until Jalen Ramsey put a stop to that. On first down from the Jaguars 23, Ramsey laid out across the middle and made one of the best catches you’ll ever see for an interception at the seven and returned it to the twenty-five. Jaguars led 16-3 at the half.
Starting the second half with the same professional approach, the Jaguars marched right down the field and scored again, taking a 24-3 lead after the two-point conversion pass, a jump ball to Marcedes Lewis. The drive culminated with Fournette scoring and lining up the offense afterwards for a “free-throw” celebration. The best part of that was both Jeremy Parnell and Chris Reed stepping in the “lane” to block out on the FT attempt. Good fundamentals across the board. Marrone told his team at halftime they needed, “more focus and to finish this game.”
“I think we’ve been put in a couple of situations where we’ve had to throw the ball, and I think we’ve delivered,” Quarterback Blake Bortles said in the post-game press conference. “We’ve done some good things. I think last week was kind of uncharacteristic of our passing game, so it felt good to be able to get back on track on really the whole thing, from up front to the guys running around to the guys in the back in protections and check downs. I thought it was a good day all around.”
Again the Colts responded, Jacoby Brissett hitting T.Y. Hilton on a crossing route for 40-yards and a TD. 24-10 Jaguars. The Jaguars defensive secondary was in a zone and Brissett had plenty of time to throw. Barry Church looked like he either missed him or passed him off to somebody else but either way, Hilton scored untouched.
Another drive by the Jaguars ended in a field goal and a 27-10 lead. Bortles was sharp and making smart decisions. He ran for a first down in the middle of the field and threw a beautiful pass to Cole down the sideline over the cornerback and in front of the safety to get the ball inside the ten-yard line. Both Fournette and Cam Robinson were hobbled by ankle injuries on the drive although they both walked off the field. Both returned.
A couple of punts were exchanged, a bad call against Yannick Ngakoue gave the Colts life but Tashaun Gipson picked off Brissett leading to another Lambo field goal and a 30-10 lead and that was the final score of the game.
This was a methodical, efficient win by the Jaguars who got the kind of game out of Bortles they’ll need the rest of the year and into the post-season. Smart an accurate, confident and strong, Blake got the ball to his receivers when they were open and they caught the ball and held onto it. When you have two rookies in the game (Dede Westbrook and Keelan Cole) who start catching the ball and making a contribution in critical situations, it fuels the rest of the offense and keeps drives alive.
“The emphasis this week was to do your job,” Jaguars Tight End Marcedes Lewis said in front of his locker. “You didn’t have to do anything that you are not trained to do. Do your job. If the ball is thrown your way and it’s a catchable ball, catch the ball. If it’s not catchable, then you try and catch the ball. We went out there and did everything we could do to help this team go forward and I think the offense did a good job today.”
The return of Allen Hurns will give Bortles more options and a reliable receiver who will get open and catch the ball in traffic. Lewis looks rejuvenated. The defense is solid, recording four more sacks against the Colts and hoping for the return of Telvin Smith. (By the way, Smith’s absence was the first time a defensive starter has missed a game all season.)
An 8-4 record with four to play, two at home and two on the road shows the Jaguars to be a legitimate post-season threat if this is the kind of professional performance they can continue to display. If they do, they’ll be a tough out for the rest of the year and into the post-season, no matter who, or where they play.