Jaguars jolt Texans, clinch first playoff berth in 10 years
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The Jaguars clinched their first playoff berth since 2007 in style.
Blake Bortles passed for three touchdowns in the first half to lead Jacksonville to a 45-7 victory over the Houston Texans on Sunday at EverBank Field. The Jaguars led 31-0 after two quarters, the largest halftime margin in franchise history.
Jacksonville (10-4) remain in control of first place over the AFC South under first-year head coach Doug Marrone. The Jaguars won 17 games total in the previous five seasons, the lowest total in the NFL.
“It’s unbelievable,” Jaguars owner Shad Khan said. “To win it and win it the way we did today, mind-blowing. I’m really grateful and proud of the players, the football leadership and the fans — especially the last two games. They have given us the energy to put it over the top. It’s been awesome.”
Houston (4-10) lost its fourth straight and fell for the seventh time in eight games. The Texans were outscored 74-14 while being swept by the Jaguars.
“We were struggling on offense, and they were running the ball,” Houston coach Bill O’Brien said. “They did a good job in the passing game. On a couple of drives, I don’t even know if they had a third down. They were just moving the ball and we were going three-and-out. We played the exact opposite of complementary football. We played terrible and we didn’t coach very well.”
Bortles completed 21 of 29 passes for 326 yards with no interceptions for a career-high passer rating of 143.8.
The fourth-year veteran continued his recent strong play. Bortles, selected with the third overall pick in the 2014 draft, has thrown for 903 yards with seven touchdowns and no interceptions in the past three games combined. He now has a playoff berth on his resume.
“Everybody knows the history of the organization,” Bortles said. “To be able to say that we were a part of the group that kind of changed the culture and changed the narrative about the Jaguars is special. I think it’s a never-ending battle. You do it one week or you do it for a couple weeks or for one season. It’s something we have to find a way to make consistent on a weekly basis and on a yearly basis.”
Bortles excelled Sunday with a group of unproven receivers after veteran Marqise Lee injured his ankle in the first quarter. The Jaguars were already without Allen Robinson (injured reserve) and Allen Hurns (ankle).
Undrafted rookie Keelan Cole caught seven passes for 186 yards and a touchdown. First-year receiver Jaydon Mickens caught two touchdown passes in the second quarter.
“I thought Blake played well,” Marrone said. “It’s always tough when you lose a receiver early like Marqise Lee. I thought the young guys stepped up. Blake put the ball where he needed to, and we had some big plays.”
Mickens was signed to the practice squad on Sept. 18 and promoted to the active roster on Oct. 21. He quickly established himself as a dangerous punt returner, winning AFC Special Teams Player of the Week honors twice in his first seven games.
Lee’s injury gave Mickens the opportunity to shine against the Texans.
“That’s why I practice,” Mickens said. “I don’t just do punt returns at practice, I have to do everything. It was something that I knew I could do. It was something that a lot of people knew I could do, but it just came out today.”
The Jaguars opened the scoring with a 1-yard touchdown run by fullback Tommy Bohanon to take a 7-0 lead with 3:52 left in the first quarter.
Bortles then found Mickens for touchdown passes of 5 and 14 yards.
After Jaguars kicker Josh Lambo connected from 38 yards to give the Jaguars a 24-0 lead, Bortles put the game away following an interception by Jaguars strong safety Barry Church with 37 seconds left until halftime.
Bortles connected with Cole for a 9-yard touchdown pass with 26 seconds left in the second quarter.
That was more than enough for the NFL’s top-ranked scoring defense. The Texans, starting third-team quarterback T.J. Yates, managed 58 yards and were called for 93 yards in penalties in the first half.
Yates did find receiver DeAndre Hopkins for a 25-yard touchdown in the third quarter.
The Jaguars answered with another 1-yard Bohanon touchdown run and an 8-yard run by running back Corey Grant.
Houston finished the game with 186 total yards.
“Pretty embarrassing,” Yates said. “Nothing worked, nothing going on. I didn’t give us a chance. ... They are an incredible defense. They did a great job covering, great job rushing the passer and creating some confusion up front.”
NOTES: Jaguars DE Calais Campbell recorded two sacks to extend his single-season franchise record to 14.5. ... The Texans lost two starting offensive linemen in the game: C Nick Martin (ankle) and RG Jeff Allen (concussion). ... The Jaguars sent backup QB Chad Henne into the game with 12:33 left in the fourth quarter. ... Jaguars rookie RB Leonard Fournette was inactive due to a quad injury. The fourth overall pick in the draft did not practice all week. Fournette has carried 231 times for 923 yards with eight touchdowns this season. ... Houston continues to improve its first-round draft position. The only problem is the winless Cleveland Browns own the pick after the Texans traded up to take QB Deshaun Watson this year.