The Jacksonville Jaguars have been a team over the last few years that people thought their time was coming. Unfortunately, each year everyone said that, the team would not live up to all the preseason hype. The result would be them falling flat on their face, nowhere near the playoff hunt. This year, the same hype was placed upon them. They spent money on free agents like cornerback AJ Bouye and defensive end Calais Campbell to add to their already improving core of players. The result was the Jaguars surged to the top of the AFC South and into the playoffs. They achieved the playoffs this year, but there was so much more they wanted to accomplish. They started with beating the Buffalo Bills in the Wild Card round and they followed that up with a high-scoring win over the Pittsburgh Steelers at Pittsburgh’s Heinz Field. The improbable win has them square in the running for the AFC crown as they take on the New England Patriots at Foxboro this upcoming Sunday. So how did the Jags make that big win happen?
1) Bortles The Playmaker
The career of Blake Bortles has been not so good. He has thrown bad interceptions, made bad decisions and overall had not looked like a good quarterback for the Jaguars. As the season went on, Bortles has gotten a little better, but he has not been one that instills confidence in those outside of the Jacksonville locker room. Well, apparently the playoff version of Bortles is getting off to a better start to his career there. He did not overwhelm anyone in his first game in the playoffs, but if you watched him against the Steelers, he handled himself quite well. Bortles threw for only a little over 200 yards, but he has crucial runs for first downs along with a big drive in the fourth quarter that led to a touchdown pass to fullback Tommy Bohanon that would essentially seal the game. Bortles has made big plays with his feet and his arm and that type of play helped lead to the win versus the Steelers.
2) The L Train Was Rolling
A train can reach top speed and become reckless when it comes to people or things in front of them. Leonard Fournette is not a locomotive, but he is a guy that can run through things that oppose him just like a train. Fournette ran all over the Steelers back in October to the tune of 181 yards and two touchdowns. So what would he do for an encore? Fournette fought off an ankle injury to amass 109 yards and three touchdowns on 25 carries. The performance just shows you what can happen when the train gets rolling. Pittsburgh saw the L Train headed towards them on the tracks and decided they would jump off. The L Train is huge for them and he helped them seize control early against the Steelers.
3) Taking Advantage Of Opportunities
All season long, the Jacksonville Jaguars have been opportunistic. Whether it be a fumble or an interception, the Jacksonville defense made play after play after play. This past Sunday, there was not a question of if it would happen but when. The Jaguars stripped Ben Roethlisberger of the football. The football was recovered by Jaguars linebacker Telvin Smith and he returned it for a Jacksonville touchdown. These type of plays not only pump energy into the team, but they also help make things easier for their offense. The more this defense makes plays, the tougher the Jaguars offense is. Pittsburgh felt the pressure and eventually the Jags were able to break through.
4) The Takeover
No, this isn’t a Jay-Z song, but this is the story of how the Jacksonville Jaguars jumped all over the Pittsburgh Steelers early. The Jags came out early and set the tempo with their aggressive defense and their offense, which always seemed to make the right play at the right time. By the time the Steelers caught their breath, they were down 21-0 at their own stadium. The way the Jags set the tone put them in charge of the flow of the game from the onset and that is one huge thing that allowed them to get the win on the road in the playoffs.
5) The Drive
The Jaguars started out setting the momentum for the game, but we all knew eventually the Steelers would get it going. They were able to catch up and get back in the game, pulling to within seven points, 35-28, with a little over nine minutes left in the game. With that type of game pressure on them, the Jaguars responded with an eight-play. 75 yard drive that would take a lot of the air out of the stadium in Pittsburgh. The impressive Jaguars drive featured two big third-down conversions by Blake Bortles through the air and it showed that Jacksonville was better than a lot of people thought they would be.
The win in Pittsburgh was not a conventional Jaguars win, as the Steelers put up 42 points. While that was atypical of what they would usually do defensively and offensively, the beautiful thing for Jacksonville is they found a way to win the game. Now comes an even bigger challenge for them in New England. It will be interesting to see if they are able to rise to that challenge or if their youth will show up at the wrong time.
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