Jaguars continue story of perseverance, clinch playoffs for first time since 2007


This time last year, the Jacksonville Jaguars were a franchise in disarray, standing at 2-12 and searching for a new head coach after the firing of Gus Bradley. One year later, the Jaguars are 10-4, playoffs-bound for the first time since 2007 and one of the hottest teams in the NFL.

“You know, it’s been a challenge, but it’s so wonderful now to see a young team come through with veteran leadership, which gives us sustainability and hope for the future,” said Jaguars owner Shad Khan following the team’s dominant 45-7 week 15 win over the Houston Texans. “You have to stay in it and success comes. It’s a story of perseverance.”

Speaking of perseverance, Jags quarterback Blake

Bortles has personified that very word this season. Doubts surrounded his future on the team after a shaky season last year and an erratic preseason this year. Questions regarding his judgment and leadership have been raised at different points of the season, but he’s responded to his naysayers accordingly in the month of December, completing 65 of 91 passes for 903 yards, seven touchdowns and 0 interceptions.

Following the win over the Texans, coach Doug Marrone said Bortles is becoming more confident in his footwork and rhythm, which he attributed to more time working with offensive quarterback Nathaniel Hackett and quarterbacks coach Scott Milanovich each week. He said the fourth year quarterback made plays against the Texans that were covered well and forced him to cycle through multiple reads before throwing the ball.

Bortles ultimately finished 21 of 29 for 326 yards and three touchdowns against Houston, a game in which he was without his starting running back Leonard Fournette and No. 1 wide receiver Marqise Lee due to injuries. Lee exited the game in the first quarter with an ankle injury. As a result, it was “next man up” for Bortles and the Jaguars, who leaned on undrafted rookie Keelan Cole and second-year player Jaydon Mickens to take care of business.

“I mean we have lost our top three receivers going into the season, so you’re not really supposed to really be that productive on offense after that,” said Bortles, whose team has lost receivers Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns and Marqise Lee to injuries throughout the season. “We have continued to find ways to put up points and make big plays. It’s a huge credit to those guys.”

Cole finished with seven catches for 186 yards and a touchdown against Houston, while Mickens notched 61 yards and two touchdowns. Marrone said Cole has worked harder than any free agent he’s ever seen, adding that he’s picked up the offense faster than anyone he’s ever seen. As for Mickens, the Jaguars coach said although he isn’t the biggest or fastest, he started making plays in camp as soon as he arrived in Jacksonville, and possesses a unique level of enthusiasm and work ethic.

Fullback Tommy Bohanon added two running scores for the Jaguars, while running back Corey Grant also had a touchdown against the Texans. Kicker Josh Lambo continues to be “Mr. Reliable,” knocking in a 38-yard field goal and converting on each of his extra points. Lambo is 16 of 17 for field goals this season.

The lone score for the Texans came in the third quarter when quarterback T.J. Yates connected with wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins on a 25-yard touchdown. The Jaguars defense continued its dominant reign, limiting the Texans to 186 total yards (87 rushing and 99 passing). Jacksonville sacked Yates four times, two of which came from defensive end Calais Campbell, who now has 14.5 sacks this season. The Jaguars lead the league in sacks with 50. Jacksonville’s defensive prowess also included an interception by safety Barry Church and a forced fumble by defensive tackle Malik Jackson.

Linebacker Paul Posluszny notched a statistic of a different kind: his first guaranteed trip to the playoffs in his 11-year career.

“Just the fact to know we are in the playoffs is an awesome feeling,” he said. “You felt like at the beginning of the year, we had a special group, and we really never said it was our specific goal, but you knew if we followed Coach Marrone’s formula, we would have a chance.”

A trip to the playoffs isn’t the end goal for this team though, added Posluszny, whose squad finishes the season with contests at San Francisco and Tennessee. With a win against the 49ers, the Jaguars will win the AFC South division, guarantee at least the No. 3 seed in the AFC playoffs and continue building upon its story of perseverance that began just a year ago after hitting rock bottom.

“We want more,” said Posluszny. “This team knows that. There is more to accomplish. This is just the start.”