JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - EverBank Field was at capacity Sunday for the Jacksonville Jaguars’ Wild Card Playoff matchup against the Buffalo Bills.
The first half was a defensive showcase and a battle for field position, as neither team managed to cross midfield until 6:37 left in the first half.
Sacksonville flexed its muscle from the onset. Jaguars defensive tackle Malik Jackson sacked Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor on their opening drive for an 8-yard loss on third down, forcing the Bills to punt. The rest of the first quarter would look much the same for the Bills as the Jaguars defense contained Bills’ running back Lesean McCoy.
The Jaguars offense looked flat as they failed to convert a third down until the second quarter. Their first conversion would come on a Blake Bortles quarterback sneak. Running back Leonard Fournette was held for 16 yards on six carries.
With 11:25 left in the second quarter, Taylor’s pass intended for Lorenzo Thomas was picked off by Aaron Colvin on the Buffalo 35-yard line. The Jags couldn’t capitalize on the favorable field position and were forced to punt after going three-and-out.
The Jaguars defense continued to look solid and was about to force the Bills to another three-and-out, but then the penalties happened; a defensive hold and a personal foul for a late hit on Taylor while attempting to slide propelled the Bills downfield. A few plays later, Taylor tripped trying to scramble on the Jaguars 4-yard line, setting up a fourth down. The Bills lined up for a 21-yard chip shot but were gifted a first down with a Jaguars neutral zone infraction.
On the ensuing drive, the Jaguars’ defense was stout, holding the Bills to a Stephen Hauschka 31-yard field goal, and took a 3-0 lead.
Bortles broke out for two big-time runs on the Jags' last possession of the half. The first was a 20-yard run up the middle and was the most yards on a single play by either team to that point. The second run was a scramble to the left for 20 yards to the Bills 12-yard-line. Lorenzo Alexander sacked Bortles, forcing a 44-yard Jason Lambo field goal to tie the game before the half.
Bortles was off most of the day, misfiring short and long, but made up for it with 88 yards rushing. He scrambled for a long first down run after fumbling the ball late, prompting a Bills assistant to slam a clipboard and eliciting a huge grin from Bortles.
"We weren't sharp, we made some bad plays and did some stupid stuff, but we found a way to win and that's all that matters," Bortles said.
He completed 12 of 23 passes for 87 yards, with a touchdown. His TD pass to backup tight end Ben Koyack late in the third quarter was his best throw of the game. It also was a gutsy call on fourth-and-goal from the 1.
Bortles did the rest on the ground, scrambling for first downs and helping Jacksonville win its first playoff game at home since the 1997 season.
"You know, when we got beat last week at Tennessee, I didn't run at all, so I thought we got beat without kind of shooting all of our shots, so I said it made it difficult, so let's find some ways to move the ball and do some different stuff," Bortles said.
The Bills had plenty of chances down the stretch, but a huge penalty against Charles Clay and then a tackle that knocked Taylor out of the game ended any threat of a comeback.
Taylor slammed his helmet hard against the ground after getting thrown down by Dante Fowler Jr. He had to be helped off the field and forced backup Nathan Peterman into the game with 1:27 remaining.
“Yeah, you know, we had done a good job of calling a stunt. I think that’s what probably had him pause there and stutter for a minute. I was actually on the ground when I had my little stunner or whatever, and when I was on the ground, I managed to get back up, and he was right there," Fowler Jr. said. "I hope he’s okay, and I’m just glad that I was there to make the play for my team.”
All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey tipped and then intercepted Peterman's third pass, and the Jaguars ran out the clock.
“It was big. Regardless of if I would have got the pick or not, I think we would have held them on the defensive side of the ball," Ramsey said. "That’s just the confidence I have in the defense and the team and what we can do.”
The Bills finished with 263 yards, with 119 of those coming from hobbled running back LeSean McCoy (ankle).
The Jags had a measly 230 yards. Leonard Fournette ran 21 times for 57 yards.
After the game, Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone told the team in the locker room that he will make sure the game ball gets delivered to the city of Jacksonville. Marrone said after nearly 18 years without a home playoff victory, the city and its fans deserve it.
“The atmosphere was incredible," Colvin said. "The fans, they were rocking from start to finish, and I’ve just got to say thank you to all the fans out there that supported us today and have been around with us all year. It’s a cool feeling, but at the same time, we’ve got bigger goals.”
Trailing 10-3 with about six minutes to play, the Bills looked as if they picked up a first down on an 11-yard pass from Taylor to Clay. Jacksonville players standing on the sideline pointed to Clay's feet, and Marrone threw the challenge flag. Officials overturned the completion, saying Clay was out of bounds and setting up a third-and-10 play from the Jacksonville 48-yard line. Linebacker Myles Jack sacked Taylor on the next play, forcing a punt.
Bills: Safety Micah Hyde left the game in the third quarter and was being evaluated for a concussion. Cornerback Tre'Davious White went to the locker room in the fourth to be treated for cramps. Safety Colt Anderson injured his right shoulder in the fourth trying to make a diving interception. Guard Richie Incognito (shoulder) and Clay (hamstring) left briefly in the first half but returned.
Jaguars: Linebacker Paul Posluszny left the game with a hip injury, tried to return and then headed to the locker room for further evaluation. He was listed as questionable and returned to the sideline after halftime. Receiver/punt returner Jaydon Mickens left with a hamstring injury and did not return.
The Jaguars will play at second-seeded Pittsburgh next Sunday, a rematch from Week 5. Ben Roethlisberger threw five interceptions, and Jacksonville won 30-9. The Steelers have won 10 of 11 since, the lone loss coming against New England.
“New week, new team and the game before it doesn’t matter," Jack said. "It never happened so we’re going up there, we’re going to enjoy this for a little bit so we’ll get our minds right and get ready for Pittsburgh.”
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