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Blake Bortles, Jaguars Shock Tom Brady, Patriots in AFC Title Game Rematch

Tyler Conway@jtylerconwayFeatured ColumnistSeptember 16, 2018

Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles (5) throws a pass as he is pressured by New England Patriots defensive end Trey Flowers (98) during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 16, 2018, in Jacksonville, Fla. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton)
Stephen B. Morton/Associated Press

The Jacksonville Jaguars may have just staked their claim as AFC favorites.

Blake Bortles threw for 377 yards and four touchdowns and the Jaguars defense throttled Tom Brady and the New England offense, as Jacksonville earned a 31-20 win over the Patriots on Sunday.

The AFC Championship Game rematch played out nothing like their matchup eight months ago. Brady was under duress and limited to dinking and dunking around the field throughout, while Bortles showed no fear in one of his best games as a pro.

The Jaguars won despite playing without running back Leonard Fournette, who sat out with a hamstring injury.

The Patriots Have a WR Problem

For years, Tom Brady has made a makeshift receiving corps work. They pick up whoever they can off the scrapheap, Brady chisels out a 1,000-yard season out of a guy who was sent packing by a bottom-feeder, and then they rinse and repeat the next season.

The strain, at age 41, is starting to show.

The Jaguars defense did not seem threatened by Brady for almost the entire game. His final stat line (24-of-35, 234 yards, two touchdowns) is fine overall, but there was no punch to the Patriots offense. Brady just hummed the ball around underneath for minimal gains and couldn't connect on any shots down the field.

Part of that is credit to Jacksonville. The Jaguars have perhaps the NFL's best collection of defensive players, all of whom play their scheme beautifully. Jalen Ramsey might be the best corner in the league, and pressure from the outside has always been Brady's kryptonite.

But last year's Patriots had Brandin Cooks, a burner who was a constant threat to defenses even if he didn't put up Mossian numbers with Brady. The threat of Cooks and Chris Hogan, who caught Brady's two touchdown passes, opened things up in the middle of the field.

The Patriots traded Cooks this offseason for a first-round pick. They chose...not to replace him. Their first-round picks were used on an offensive tackle who's out for the season and a running back who's part of a committee. 

The Browns announced that they are going to release Josh Gordon on Monday. The Patriots should do whatever they can to sign him. 

Jaguars Defense Remains in Super Bowl Form

Then again, provided they stay healthy, the Jaguars might just be doing this to opposing quarterbacks all season. Jacksonville held Eli Manning to 224 yards on 37 passing attempts last week and stuffed running back Saquon Barkley until he broke out for a 68-yard touchdown run.

Holding Barkley, Odell Beckham Jr. and Brady largely in check is a great sign for where they're headed.

Jacksonville's defense carried it through the regular season and nearly to a Super Bowl appearance a year ago. The pass rush only brought Brady down for two sacks and hit him three times, but those numbers pale in comparison to the effect it had. Brady never seemed comfortable in the pocket, and on the rare instances he had time to throw, the Jags secondary was right there to swallow things up after short gains.

It all comes down to what the offense can do to determine the ceiling of this team. 

   

Blake Bortles No Longer Fears Patriots

More specifically, it comes down to Bortles. And, if Sunday was any indication, he isn't afraid of the spotlight.

Bortles completed 29 of his 45 passes, worked the middle of the field well and picked his spots when he wanted to make a bigger play. His 61-yard connection with Dede Westbrook all but sealed the deal for a Jaguars win.

Making things even more impressive is that Fournette wasn't playing. Jacksonville wasn't going to hand over 25 carries to backup T.J. Yeldon. This was Bortles' game to win or lose. He hit nine different pass-catchers, got Keelan Cole back in the mix with a seven-catch, 116-yard outing and checked down when necessary rather than taking bad chances.

Bortles is never going to be a superstar quarterback; that ship has sailed. But the defense is good enough to win a title if Bortles can be a league-average NFL starting quarterback.

Bortles' last two games against the Patriots: 670 passing yards, five touchdowns, one interception.

Something tells me that confidence gained might matter in a few months. 

What's Next?

The Patriots will visit the Detroit Lions next week. It will be their first matchup against former defensive coordinator Matt Patricia. The Jaguars will stay home to face the Tennessee Titans.  

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