Jacksonville Jaguars prove to themselves and everyone else that they're legit contenders

Jay Asser 17:52 17/09/2018
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The bottom never fell out this time.

After looking eerily similar to the AFC Championship Game for three-plus quarters, the rematch between the Jacksonville Jaguars and the New England Patriots on Sunday had a far different ending.

Conservatism never set in for Jacksonville. Their uber-talented defence never succumbed. Blake Bortles was the hero, not a liability.

Week 2 victories aren’t usually significant, but for the Jaguars, their 31-20 win was about more than just maintaining an unbeaten record on the season.

It was a statement, perhaps more to themselves than to the rest of the league, that reaching the doorstep of the Super Bowl in January wasn’t a fluke, and that they’re more than equipped to go one or two steps further this season.

Jacksonville treated Sunday almost as if it was their Super Bowl. They wanted this one badly, in part to remove some of the sting remaining from their collapse in the AFC title game.

Tangibly speaking, the victory may only end up factoring in when home-field advantage is determined at the end of the season – not exactly a footnote, but a point that is nearly an eternity away from mattering.

However, the confidence the Jaguars gained from taking down New England is far more valuable, especially for the offence.

The other side of the ball wasn’t lacking belief, and while they now know for sure they can slow down Tom Brady’s attack, Jalen Ramsey and Co never had anything to prove.

Bortles and the offence, on the other hand, needed to show they could be the aggressors – not the team’s handicap.

Not only did they do that on Sunday, but they did it in the most convincing way possible as Bortles played arguably the game of his life and validated the faith shown in him by Nathaniel Hackett’s emboldened play-calling.

Bortles wasn’t asked to not lose the game this time – he was asked to go and win it. Even late in the fourth quarter, pass plays were called in running situations and seemingly every time, Jacksonville’s quarterback rose the occasion.

In total, Bortles attempted 45 throws, completing 29 of them for 377 yards and four touchdowns. His lone mistake, an interception in the fourth quarter, was a tipped pass off the hands of tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins. Bortles even added 35 yards on six rushes to look like the duel-threat player Bill Belichick billed him as in the lead-up to the game.

As impressive as the performance was though, it came against a lifeless New England defence that lost safety Patrick Chung and defensive end Trey Flowers during the contest. The Patriots unit looked improved in their opener against Houston, but it’s appearing more like that was the result of the Texans’ struggles, particularly on the offensive line.

If Bortles sees the same version of New England’s defence in January, it won’t really matter how much he’s been tested by better defences.

Considering the Patriots’ track record, it’s also possible that the next time they play Jacksonville, they’ll have hit their stride.

September disappointments are nothing new for Belichick’s side. Whether it was the 41-14 beat down to Kansas City in 2014, or the 42-27 embarrassment to the Chiefs in the opener last year, the Patriots have dealt with early-season hiccups by putting them in the rearview mirror swiftly.

The offence will undoubtedly be better than it was on Sunday, which was the Patriots’ first game with their running back trio of Rex Burkhead, James White and Sony Michel all healthy. Julian Edelman, who is currently serving a four-game suspension, will return in three weeks to greatly bolster the wide receiver corps and give Brady another trusty weapon.

It’s the other side of the ball which has questions to answer. The pass rush was often lacking last season and on Sunday, their issues resurfaced as they couldn’t get to Bortles for a single sack. The secondary didn’t help matters as they were burned constantly in man coverage.

It would be too early to panic for any team, but especially for New England, who every year try to build up to the playoffs so they can hit their peak when at the right moment.

While the Jaguars enjoy the high of one of the franchise’s most important wins, the Patriots are taking the long view.

If they meet again, how both teams respond to the Week 2 result could make all the difference.

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