Burdened Bortles boosts Jacksonville
JAGUARS 38, TITANS 17
jacksonville, fla.» Blake Bortles admittedly felt all the pressure of Jacksonville’s lofty preseason expectations.
Knowing the stakes included popular coach Gus Bradley’s job, Bortles played tight all season. He tried to do too much and then even more when losses mounted.
“I put way too much of it on my shoulders,” Bortles said. “Probably way more than anybody else.”
Bortles was finally able to let it go after Bradley was fired last week. And he responded by playing his best game of the season, maybe even his career.
In a game when Tennessee lost starting quarterback Marcus Mariota to a broken right leg, Bortles threw for 325 yards and a touchdown — he also was on the receiving end of a 20-yard trick play with 5:25 remaining. The Jaguars ended a nine-game losing streak with a 38-17 victory against the Titans on Saturday.
“I just wanted to prove that he did the right thing by drafting me,” Bortles, who completed 26-of-38 passes and won for the first time when throwing for more than 300 yards, said of Bradley.
Bortles and the Jaguars played inspired football from the opening kick and won for the first time this season at EverBank Field. Their last victory at home came Dec. 13, 2015, against Indianapolis.
They rallied around interim coach Doug Marrone. They played for Bradley, who was awkwardly fired six days earlier. And they avenged an embarrassing loss to the Titans on national television in late October.
“We showed that this is who we are,” defensive tackle Sen’Derrick Marks said. “I think the whole ‘playing for Gus, playing for Doug’ thing was cool at the beginning. But it was gone once we took the field. It was a payback moment. They straight-up embarrassed us on national TV. We got a second chance to play them and did what we had to do.”
The outcome created a lot of headscratching and thoughts of “Where has this been all year?”
“Man, I don’t know. I really don’t know,” said rookie cornerback Jalen Ramsey, who returned an interception 30 yards late and set off a raucous — and long-awaited — celebration in Jacksonville. “What I do know is Gus is definitely a part of this.”
It was a debacle for the Titans, who had won three in a row. Tennessee needed a win to set up an AFC South title game next weekend against Houston. But now, coach Mike Mularkey’s team needed the Texans to lose at home to Cincinnati later Saturday to stay in the division race.
The Titans’ destiny might not even matter because Mariota is out for the season.
Mariota broke his right leg late in the third quarter, with Tennessee trailing 25-10. Rookie Sheldon Day sacked Mariota as he scrambled on first down, grabbing him around the ankles. Mariota signaled to the sideline as he pounded the ground. Trainers rushed to his side, put on the air cast and lifted Mariota onto a cart. Teammates and even some Jaguars patted Mariota on the shoulders before he exited.
“That breaks my heart, man,” Titans offensive tackle Taylor Lewan said. “Love him. That guy’s an awesome dude. For that to happen to him, it’s unfair.”
Journeyman Matt Cassel replaced Mariota and completed 13-of-24 passes for 124 yards, with a touchdown and an interception. His 14-yard score to Delanie Walker made it 25-17, but Jacksonville answered on the ensuing drive. Cassel will be the starter the rest of the way.
“Cassel is a guy who’s been around a long time and has won a lot of games,” Titans running back DeMarco Murray said. “He’s the next guy up and he prepares every single day, every single week like he’s the starter, so I know he’ll be ready to play.”
The Jaguars lost both running backs, with T.J. Yeldon (ankle) and Chris Ivory (hamstring) leaving the game. Titans cornerback LeShaun Sims left with a concussion.
The Jaguars’ Jalen Ramsey, left, and Josh Johnson celebrate after a defensive stop during the first half of Saturday’s game against the Titans. Rob Foldy, Getty Images