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The Jacksonville Defense Won Against the Bills, and Blake Bortles Didn’t Lose

But the Jaguars will need more from their quarterback to have a chance of advancing again

Wild Card Round Buffalo Bills v Jacksonville Jaguars Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images

After Jacksonville’s 10-3 win against the Buffalo Bills on Sunday, CBS’s Tracy Wolfson asked Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles about his team’s performance.

“We made some bad plays and did some stupid stuff, but we found a way to win and that’s all that matters,” he said.

Bortles, who was recently lauded as maybe-not-completely-terrible, was considered the X factor in the Jaguars’ playoff run because of his propensity to alternate between competent play and game-ending ineptitude. On Sunday, he didn’t do anything to lose Jacksonville the game, but he also didn’t do much to help his team win. Bortles’s play was just good enough to get Jacksonville past the Bills, but the Jags won’t have a prayer against divisional-round opponent Pittsburgh—or any other playoff teams—if Bortles plays the way he did on Sunday.

In the air, Bortles finished 12-for-23 with just 87 yards and a touchdown, the lowest single-game total of his career. But somehow, Bortles looked even worse than those numbers. The quarterback sailed passes past wide-open receivers on check-downs and missed targets on screen passes.

Announcer Tony Romo mentioned that the wind was factoring into the passing calculus, but also explained how most quarterbacks account for strong winds. When Bortles finally managed to complete a check-down in the second half, Romo said, “When you throw a check-down accurately, you get yards!” which might qualify as shade even if it was meant as a compliment. Even Jason from The Good Place wouldn’t say Bortles had a good day. (OK, maybe he would.)

Bortles was able to move the ball on the ground—he finished with 10 rushes for 88 yards, which was more yards than he collected in the air. The quarterback outrushed teammate Leonard Fournette (57 yards on 21 carries) and a hobbled LeSean McCoy (75 yards on 19 carries), who was dealing with a right ankle injury.

He even managed to truck a cameraman. Yet, Bortles’s newfound ground game was more a product of desperation than ingenuity. By the end of the game, it seemed as if Bortles had given up on trying to throw altogether.

As has been the case for much of the season, Jacksonville’s win was a product of its smothering defense. Tyrod Taylor was held to just 17 completions on 37 attempts for 134 yards and an interception before suffering a scary hit with under two minutes remaining in the game. Backup Nathan Peterman then entered the game and quickly threw a game-ending interception to cornerback Jalen Ramsey, an on-brand play for both Ramsey and Peterman. On the day, the Bills had just 263 total yards and didn’t make it into Jacksonville territory until midway through the second quarter.

Next week, the Jaguars will need more from Bortles if they want to have any chance of advancing to the AFC championship game. Jacksonville smacked the Steelers 30-9 in Week 5, but that game was one of the worst of Ben Roethlisberger’s career. The Steelers quarterback threw five interceptions, and was constantly harassed by the Jags defensive line. That game flow allowed Bortles to throw the ball just 14 times while Fournette ground out the clock. But the Steelers of early October are not the team that Jacksonville will see next week. The Jaguars defense won’t be able to count on a single-digit scoring performance or repeated turnovers that previously gave Bortles a workable starting field position. If Jacksonville wants to advance to the AFC championship game, it will need Bortles to help it win the game, not just try to avoid causing a loss.

An earlier version of this piece misstated the number of AFC championship games the Jaguars have reached.