By Adesina O. Koiki
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Evoking memories of Mark Brunell, the greatest quarterback in team history, Blake Bortles made play after play on Sunday similar to the man who led the Jaguars to four of their five playoff wins in franchise history before today.
Well, at least with his legs, Bortles was Brunell-like.
The massive struggles Bortles had throwing the football eventually did not come back to haunt the Jaguars, as he came through time and again with crucial first downs on the ground as Jacksonville defeated the Buffalo Bills 10-3 in the AFC Wild Card Game at EverBank Field. It is the first win for the Jaguars in the NFL Playoffs since the end of the 2007 season.
On the day, Bortles ran for 88 yards while only completing 12 passes for 87 yards, becoming the fourth quarterback since 1950 to win a playoff game by having more rushing yards in the game than passing yards.
It was ugly, but it was a win at the end of the day, and the Jaguars now will have a rematch with the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Steel City next Sunday.
“That’s usually not ideal for a quarterback,” Bortles said when asked if he envisioned himself having more rushing yards than passing yards in a playoff game. “But it is what it is.
“I kind of felt like last week [in Tennessee], I don’t think I ran at all and I felt like we lost without emptying all of our bullets. So I wanted to make sure that whatever happened today, if we were going to get beat or if something bad were to happen, it was going to be with us going down swinging and using every option and everything we could.”
Jacksonville’s only touchdown – and the only touchdown scored in the game – was driven by the scrambling ability of Bortles. On that third-quarter drive, Bortles began it with a nine-yard run, and he also had a run of 10 yards to get the Jaguars in the red zone. Facing a fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line, Bortles went to the air and found tight end Ben Koyack in the back of the end zone to give the Jaguars a 10-3 lead with 42 seconds remaining in the third.
Now with their first lead of the game, the Jaguars’ defense continued to apply the pressure on the Bills offense, forcing Buffalo to punt three consecutive times after the touchdown.
Buffalo’s last drive ended when cornerback Jalen Ramsey intercepted a pass from Nathan Peterman, who was in after starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor was knocked out of the game with a concussion a few plays prior, with 26 seconds remaining to seal the win for Jacksonville.
“We had that in our minds that if you give our defense one [touchdown], we’re going to make the rest happen,” Ramsey said. “We’ll put the team on our backs.”
In what turned out to be a defensive battle, the first points of the game did not come until moments after the 2-minute warning in the first half. Stephen Hauschka capped off an 18-play, 71-yard drive with a 31-yard field goal to give the Bills a 3-0 lead, though Buffalo had a first-and-goal from the 1-yard line. On the first down play, wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin committed an offensive pass interference penalty on Ramsey in the end zone, effectively ending the Bills’ best chance at scoring a touchdown in the game.
Jacksonville, equally as anemic on offense in the first half, rallied to tie the score right before the half, as Bortles had runs of 20 and 12 yards on the last Jaguars drive of the second quarter to set up Josh Lambo’s 44-yard field goal with two seconds remaining to send the teams into the locker room all square at 3-3.
Before being injured, Taylor only completed 17 of his 37 passes for 134 yards, throwing an interception in the second quarter to cornerback Aaron Colvin. Running back LeSean McCoy, who was questionable to play in the game after an ankle injury suffered in the regular season finale in Miami, had 119 total yards for Buffalo, including 75 on the ground.
The win for Jacksonville sets up a rematch of a Week 5 matchup in the Divisional Round, as the Jaguars will go back to Pittsburgh to take on the Steelers. Jacksonville came away with a 30-9 victory on Oct. 8, as the defense kept Pittsburgh out of the end zone while coming away with five interceptions of Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
Kickoff from Heinz Field is at 1:05 PM EST on Sunday, with the game being televised on CBS.