By Nick Shook
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After a decade-long wait the Jaguars are heading back to the playoffs after defeating the Houston Texans 45-7 on Sunday. Here’s what we learned from the game:
1. Jacksonville is officially headed back to the playoffs for the first time since 2007, and a lot of it has to do with Blake Bortles. I’m convinced we’ve been watching a body double playing in place of Bortles for most of his career until this last month. The difference is stunning. Bortles has been a walking human torch in the last three weeks, posting passer ratings of 119.8, 123.7 and 143.7. His 21 of 29 passing line for 326 yards and three touchdowns — an excellent box score entry — almost lowballs how well he played on Sunday. Bortles dropped dime after dime, establishing a rapport with former practice squad man Jaydon Mickens (four catches, 61 yards, two touchdowns) and Keelan Cole (seven catches, 186 yards, one touchdown) and making throws we haven’t seen from him since his days at UCF. A team that was considered strong at every position except quarterback suddenly has one who is playing at a high level.
Is December Bortles’ month? We’ve never really known, since the Jags usually have found themselves well out of the race at that point. He posted a 103.5 rating on Christmas Eve last season in a win over the Titans and was surprisingly effective in December 2015 (posting ratings of 134.5, 114.6 and 124.5 in three of his final five games). This, with a playoff-bound team, is remarkable and a great reason for Jags fans to be feeling great about their team as we hurtle toward the new year.
2. We saw more of the same from Jacksonville’s defense, which should be incredibly encouraging for the Jaguars‘ fan base. They again harassed Houston’s quarterback — this time, T.J. Yates — sacking him four times. Jacksonville successfully avoided facing a Deshaun Watson start in 2017 and made those who played in his place remember how ferocious its defense can be. The unit has also been especially clutch when running back Leonard Fournette is unavailable, as our own Jeremy Bergman pointed out via Twitter: Jacksonville has allowed just 14 points in three games played without Fournette, all three of which have ended in victories. By land, by air, or by suffocating D, Jacksonville can win in a variety of ways.
3. There isn’t much to say about the Texans at this point, but Sunday might have been a new low. After a first quarter filled with stiff defense and ineffective offense, Houston showed the first sign of weakness, and it snowballed from there. Before you could blink, Bortles had three touchdown passes, fullback Tommy Bohanon had two rushing touchdowns (bringing his career total to two) and the party was on at EverBank Field. Hope rests in next year, when Deshaun Watson can return and Houston can use the offseason to improve its offensive line, a weakness that becomes glaring against defenses like Jacksonville’s.