Feel free to burn the tape of Buffalo Bills at Jacksonville Jaguars. You have our blessing. But do us a favor? Start with the final three minutes of the first half.
Embalm it in turpentine, set the kindling beneath at that precise point and let the matches fly.
Point of order: The Jaguars beat the Bills, 10-3, in an AFC wild-card game, the first postseason game for either franchise in more than a decade, but this thing lost its historical charm and luster quickly. It went from ugly at 0-0 after 27 minutes to downright heinous in the time and effort it took to net two field goals in the run-up to halftime.
The second half, relatively speaking, was only marginally better At least there was an offensive touchdown. This was the lowest-scoring playoff game since Jan. 3, 1997 (Pittsburgh Steelers 7, New England Patriots 6 that day).
The Jaguars will now head to Pittsburgh next Sunday to face a Steelers team they've already beaten, sending the Tennessee TItans to New England for a divisional-round game against the Patriots on Saturday night. The Steelers were housed by the Jaguars, 30-9, ijn Week 5 at Heinz Field. But do the Jaguars have a chance if they play the way they did offensively against the Bills? Likely not.
On Sunday, the lack of execution, sheer number of coaching errors and painfully un-playoff-caliber moments were plentiful on both sides — and especially in that end-of-half stretch that showed just how flawed these two teams are — even if the Jaguars' ferocious defense (two turnovers forced, 3.6 yards per play allowed) gives them a chance.
This game ended in ugly fashion as the Bills tried to drive to salvage a tie or a shot at a win in the final minutes. Bills QB Tyrod Taylor was thrown down hard to the ground on a sack by Dante Fowler, with Taylor’s head snapping back. He remained down on the ground for minutes, tended to by the Bills’ medical staff, before being helped off. Rookie Nathan Peterman, who had a five-INT game in his only NFL start, drove to the Jacksonville 38-yard line before he was picked off by the Jaguars’ Jalen Ramsey to end the Bills’ miracle run.
The game boiled down to two 4th-and-short situations close to the goal line, one for each team. The Bills opted not to go for it on 4th-and-1 from the Jacksonville 3-yard line late in the second quarter. After a wild slew of awful plays, they settled for a field goal.
When the Jaguars got to the Buffalo 1-yard line — the only time all day they entered the red zone — they didn’t hesitate. In a rare display of faith in Blake Bortles by the Jaguars’ coaching staff, they eschewed the run all of EverBank Field expected and called for a play-action pass, with Bortles hitting Ben Koyack (he of the five regular-season receptions) for the game’s only touchdown.
Game. Blouses. That was the difference.
Bortles managed to make chicken salad out of a gizzard of a game by rushing for a career-high and franchise QB record 88 yards. But that was mitigated by the fact he only threw for 85 yards on 12-of-23 passing with some truly awful throws out there. Even screens, checkdowns and open looks proved dicey for Bortles, who somehow won his first postseason game.
Prior to the injury, Taylor earned a little more trust with Bills head coach Sean McDermott and offensive coordinator Rick Dennison than Bortles did with the Jags’ staff. But he threw an interception, had 20 incomplete passes (on 37 attempts) and didn't complete a pass longer than 10 yards on 16 second-half throws. Peterman's 14-yard completion late was the fourth-longest play from scrimmage all day for the Bills, who netted only 263 yards of offense.
Was Tony Romo, who called the game for CBS and at one point was laughing at Bortles’ lack of precision, the best quarterback in the house on Sunday? Or did the two teams’ coaches not do enough to help their QBs?
McDermott chose not to go for it on 4th and goal from the Jacksonville 1-yard line near the end of the second quarter, and it looked like his passivity would be rewarded because of the Jags’ stupidity — jumping offsides on the field-goal try. But a few terrible play calls (and one brilliant Calais Campbell shoestring tackle on Taylor) later, and the Bills settled for a field goal.
Why no LeSean McCoy there? Sure, he likely was on a pitch count, gutting the game out with a balky ankle that had him questionable coming into this game. But McCoy had gotten the Bills down inside the 4-yard line, earning 41 of the Bills’ 68 yards on that drive to that point. They would run six plays after that, none going to McCoy. That’s maddening. That’s a lack of self-awareness by the Bills.
McCoy was pretty incredible, all things considered. He finished with 119 yards from scrimmage — 75 rushing and 44 receiving — 25 gutsy touches. The Bills had no real shot without him in this game, and even with him they punted on six of their first eight possessions, not counting the end-of-half kneeldown. McDermott helped gift the Jaguars their first three points with some questionable clock management in the final 90 seconds before halftime.
Bortles' confidence looked shot early. Credit to the Jaguars' offensive staff for not pussyfooting in the second half, an approach that didn't work early on. Being slightly more aggressive, relatively speaking, and likely encouraging Bortles to take off and run more didn't exactly net offensive fireworks. But it was far better than the first-half results, when the Jags had only 84 yards of offense and were averaging 2.2 yards per pass attempt.
The Jaguars are moving on, and this game wasn't pretty. But they at least stepped on the gas a few times when their few opportunities presented themselves. The Bills got passive, also passing up a 4th-and-1 chance early on near midfield, and it cost them. Taylor's future with the franchise now hangs in the balance, as we await news of his scary head injury.
But the same might be true for Bortles, too. The Jaguars have to know it will take a special, rare effort from their defense against the Steelers next week to have any chance, and Bortles and the passing game must be far better. If not, how much faith could they have in a quarterback due $19 million next year but one who played like a career backup?