JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – In the locker room after their long-awaited, sweltering, emphatic 31-20 win over the New England Patriots, Jacksonville Jaguars center Brandon Linder was asked if this game would lead to a different level of respect for quarterback Blake Bortles.
“We don’t give a [expletive] what anyone thinks,” he said, “so …”
A couple lockers over, safety Tashaun Gipson tallied up his one-on-one performance against the Pats’ top receiving weapon, Rob Gronkowski.
“Zero catches,” he said with a grin. Then he added how he tried to shake Gronkowski’s hand after a failed pass attempt by Tom Brady. “He ran an over route,” Gipson said. “I was sticking him. I tried to shake his hand, saying, ‘I like going at you dude.’
“He just left me hanging.”
Gipson also said he was upset that a certain former Jaguar and now TV analyst didn’t expect him to stop Gronk. “Maurice Jones-Drew hurt my feelings because he didn’t even give me a chance to guard him,” Gipson said.
Across the locker room, linebacker Myles Jack walked out of the shower bellowing, “We got a lotta new media here! Weren’t here last year! Weren’t here two years ago!” He then complained that “ESPN doesn’t cover us.”
If you think the Jags chirped before they beat the class of the league, just wait until they have more microphones to chirp into. This is going to happen now, as after all the years of failures and foibles, Jacksonville looks legitimate. Exhibit A is how they beat the Patriots without the injured Leonard Fournette, and Exhibit B is how they held Gronkowski to two catches and 15 yards.
Brady was seen screaming at teammates on the sideline in the first quarter – “Do your job!” – and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels was even more animated addressing the Pats offense after the Jags went up 14-0 early. That was a small sign of frustration on a day when the heat index soared to 107 degrees.
“We certainly had a bad day,” Brady said after the game. “You’ve got to learn from bad days. Things just don’t magically happen. You’ve got to make them happen. All of us have to have more urgency to do things right more often over the course of practices and games, and then it’s a matter of us going out and executing. But it was us. First couple of drives, it was us.”
This is hardly the toppling of a dynasty. We are still talking about the Patriots here. We are talking about one road game. But beneath all the yapping in the Jags’ locker room were some clues to beating Brady and especially Gronkowski.
“He’s a vertical kinda guy,” Gipson said of Gronk. “He’s not too interested in running the slants and the drag routes. I definitely wanted to stay on top of him because when the ball is in the air, it’s not a 50-50 chance. More like a 75-25. So my biggest thing is getting physical with him.”
It was enough for Sunday anyway. And we didn’t see much of the trademark Brady shuffle – the classic step up into the pocket so No. 12 could see the field as the pass rush curled around behind him. The play of the game was Dante Fowler’s fourth-quarter strip sack that changed possession and momentum when it looked like the Pats might come back as they always seem to do. Brady threw no interceptions but he “only” had 234 yards passing on 35 attempts. It wasn’t a dud, but it was muted.
“It was up to us four big guys to get pressure on him to step up,” said defensive tackle Malik Jackson. “And he was escaping through the C gaps and the B gaps a lot, having to go out instead of step up.”
Meanwhile, Blake Bortles was more Brady-ish, with four touchdowns and 377 yards. The Bucs’ bejeweled passing sensation, Ryan Fitzpatrick, will get the praise and the memes, but Bortles was just as good on this day.
“It’s crazy,” linebacker Telvin Smith said. “We get in these situations, and he has a monster game, and they say, ‘OK, OK.’ And then the questions are going to come back. That’s our quarterback, we love him, we believe in him.”
The Jaguars are sensitive, even resentful, about Bortles’ reputation. The usual grin and gab from the talkers on the team gets more serious when the quarterback’s name comes up. The Jags are hurt by the Bortles criticism – far more than the quarterback himself is. They feel the lack of national respect is tied to the pick-sixes of past seasons, rather than the clutch plays or at least the lack of serious errors of late.
“A lotta people say there’s no way the Jaguars win offensively, that the defense will have to score,” Gipson said. “That guy [Bortles] can carry this team. He carried this team. Four touchdowns. Who would have thought?”
And although Bortles is the last quarterback who comes to mind when the word “dual-threat” is uttered, he has a tendency to make big plays by tucking the ball. In the past two seasons, the Jags are 4-0 in games without Fournette. On Sunday, Bortles rushed for more yards (35) than any of the Patriots. That matters when your top receiver is Keelan Cole, who was undrafted out of Kentucky Wesleyan.
There will actually be tougher games ahead, not least an October trip to Kansas City. The hype for that one will probably go to Patrick Mahomes more than anyone else. And that’s expected here.
“Hopefully [Bortles] can continue to have games like this and continue to shut people up,” Gipson said.
This season, it’s going to be quite difficult to shut the Jags up.
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