JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Blake Bortles wasn’t having a whole lot of success with his arm, so the Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback decided to try to make a few plays with his legs.
That’s not exactly the formula the Jaguars want to use, but it worked Sunday in their 10-3 AFC wild-card victory over the Buffalo Bills at EverBank Field. Bortles rushed for more yards (88) than he had passing (87) to become the first quarterback to win a playoff game with fewer than 100 passing yards on 20-plus attempts since Steve McNair in the 1999 AFC wild-card game against the Bills.
All that matters for the Jaguars, though, is Bortles found a way to win a playoff game, which hasn’t been done around here in a long time. The last time that happened was in the 2007 season. The last time it happened at home was after the 1999 season. Whether Bortles is still the franchise’s long-term answer at quarterback is a debate that can be put off for another week because the Jaguars still have at least one more game to play.
“Going into a game, there’s no secret recipe on how to win,” said Bortles, who completed 12 of 23 passes. “There’s no number that says you’ve got to score this many points to beat them. You’ve got to score one more than they score, regardless of it’s 50 or if it’s three, you’ve got to find a way to outscore them.”
That seemed unreachable with the way Bortles played in the first half. It appeared that the significant strides he made in 2017 were going to be wasted and the offseason was going to again be filled with questions such as, “What do the Jaguars do at quarterback?” Yet Bortles was able to rebound and proved to his teammates and coaches that he can be relied upon to win games.
It doesn’t matter that Bortles did a large part of it with his feet.
“He found a way,” cornerback Aaron Colvin said. “That’s what we talk about. It’s the main reason I played today [despite being ill]. You’ve got to find a way. Whatever it takes. We’ve got to get to these goals that we’ve talked about.
“All this work we’ve put in the offseason is for moments like these, and for him to find a way and do it with his legs, man, I have the utmost respect for him.”
Bortles was having by far his worst game of the season until he started scrambling and getting free. Per ESPN Stats & Information, Bortles gained 71 of his 88 rushing yards via scrambles. In the past 10 postseasons, only Colin Kaepernick has scrambled for more yards in a game (85 in the 2013 wild-card round).
“I kind of reference it to a pitcher,” Bortles said. “You go out and something’s not on. You don’t have a fastball or you don’t have a curveball, and you’ve got to find another pitch to be able to win and be successful and get guys out. That’s kind of the same thing playing quarterback.
“I’m kind of fortunate to be able to run around and be able to do that stuff and have kind of an Option B to kind of help this offense move the ball and put up points. Trying to do really whatever I can to help this team win [and] help this team score points.”
Bortles’ rushing performance doesn’t overshadow that the Jaguars won’t be around in the playoffs much longer if the offense doesn’t start producing. Outside of Bortles, the run game was terrible: Leonard Fournette managed 57 yards on 21 carries. Dede Westbrook was the only receiver to catch a pass against the Bills.
That certainly won’t be good enough when the Jaguars play at Pittsburgh next Sunday with a berth in the AFC Championship Game on the line.
“We never really got into a rhythm and weren’t able to get anything on third down,” Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone said. “I’d be a fool to sit here and say I’m not concerned, but I’m going to take a step back and go ahead and look at it again. Obviously, if you want to continue to keep playing, you’re going to have to do a better job.”
That includes Bortles’ arm and legs.