No matter what happens next week at Pittsburgh, the Jaguars won’t limp into the off-season with three consecutive losses.
And regardless of how they fare against the Steelers, the Jaguars can at least cite 11 wins and a playoff victory as positive progress.
That is why Sunday’s 10-3 win/slough-fest over the Buffalo Bills was important. A loss would have squelched much of the momentum built during a division-winning season.
“To me, that’s everything,” nose tackle Abry Jones said. “It was nice to make the playoffs, but we set the expectations high for us.”
The Jaguars’ expectations: Continue their recent home-field dominance with an all-around performance against a Bills team whose Super Bowl was last week at Miami.
The Jaguars’ reality: They did enough to beat nine-win Buffalo, but it won’t be enough to beat 13-win Pittsburgh (Sunday, 1:05 p.m.).
In the lowest scoring playoff game (13 combined points) since 1998, it’s not surprising that a defensive play clinched the win. Jalen Ramsey intercepted back-up Buffalo quarterback Nathan Peterman with 26 seconds remaining.
Only one Jaguars receiver caught a pass … and they won. Quarterback Blake Bortles out-rushed tailback Leonard Fournette 88-57 … and they won. The offense scored one touchdown … and they won.
“Playoff football is about just going out there to win,” coach Doug Marrone said. “No one is trying to win a beauty contest.”
It was the first Jaguars’ playoff game in 3,655 days (10 years and 2 days), and they won at Pittsburgh after the 2007 season.
Pittsburgh is where many believe the Jaguars’ sparked their worst-to-first climb up the AFC South, intercepting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger five times (returning two for touchdowns) in a 30-9 win in Week 5.
And Pittsburgh is where the Jaguars head next for an AFC divisional round game, one win away from their first conference title game since January 2000 and two wins from their first Super Bowl appearance.
The Steelers won nine consecutive games after getting thumped by the Jaguars and used this weekend’s bye to rest receiver Antonio Brown’s calf injury. The Jaguars won’t be able to surprise the Steelers this time around.
To beat the Steelers, the Jaguars have to let it loose on offense. The Jaguars’ play-calling was often tentative, exhibited by four consecutive first-and-10 run plays to start the game and no catches by receivers Keelan Cole, Allen Hurns and Marqise Lee. They have to make sure Bortles is not their leading rusher. Fournette was held to a 2.7-yard average on 21 carries.
In an ugly game, things can be boiled down to two plays and Bills-Jaguars were no different.
In the second quarter, Buffalo used a long drive to set up a first-and-goal from the Jaguars’ 1.
In the third quarter, the Jaguars used a long drive to set up a fourth-and-goal from the Bills’ 1.
The Bills got a field goal.
The Jaguars got a touchdown.
Buffalo’s drive: The Bills marched from their 16 to the Jaguars’ 3. Set up for a field goal, Buffalo received a fresh set of downs when a Jaguars player (believed to be Carroll Phillips) jumped into the neutral zone.
Even with LeSean McCoy gimpy (ankle), first-and-goal from the 1 meant him, right? Or at least athletic quarterback Tyrod Taylor, correct? Nope. Taylor threw incomplete and receiver Kelvin Benjamin was called for pass interference on Ramsey. Moved 10 yards back, the Bills settled for a 31-yard Steven Hauschka field goal.
“I don’t really fight that battle – should have run, shouldn’t have,” McCoy said. “If we catch the ball, we score and everybody’s happy.”
Said coach Sean McDermott: “You know, there’s some calls we want back. That’s probably one of them.”
Instead of carrying a 7-3 lead into the locker room, the Bills were tied with the Jaguars after a quick 27-yard drive led to Josh Lambo’s 44-yard field goal. After all of the first-half offensive ugliness, the Jaguars were somehow tied.
The Jaguars’ offense basically woke up for one drive – a 15-play, 86-yard march in the third quarter. They didn’t face a third down – gains of 9, 2, 16, 12, 2, 16, 1, 10, 6 and 1 yards – until Fournette gained six on third-and-3. Four plays later, the Jaguars had fourth-and-goal.
Marrone kept the offense on the field.
“I thought we had a good play – I felt very confident in it,” Marrone said. “Conversely, I was thinking to myself, ‘Maybe we can keep them down there if we don’t [score].’ ”
Koyack lined up at the right end of the line. At the snap, he pretended to run block and gained inside leverage on linebacker Ramon Humber. Koyack then darted left on a post route to catch Bortles’ pass. Bortles was able to collect himself after an offensive lineman stepped on his foot.
“It was a play we had practiced all week and a play we felt confident in,” said Koyack, who had no touchdowns and five catches in the regular season.
That was it for the Jaguars’ offense, which has scored only one touchdown in the last two games. Their rhythm looks lost. Their running game looks broken. Their veteran receivers (Hurns/Lee) look understandably slow (ankle injuries). And their quarterback was all kinds of out of sorts.
Bortles’ dropped-snap-turned-into-long-scramble helped burn off time in the fourth quarter. The Jaguars got the ball at the 5:50 and 3:01 marks, but went five-and-out (burned 2:26) and three-and-out (burned 1:10). But the Bills lost it on downs at their 34 and Ramsey’s interception sealed the game.
“You never want to be one-and-done, especially after the season we had,” strong safety Barry Church said. “We don’t want to be two-and-done, either.”