Blake Bortles shines for Jaguars despite loss to Patriots

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Championship Sunday won't go down as one of the more memorable days in NFL road warrior folklore. The fast start by the Jacksonville Jaguars at Gillette Stadium quickly gave way to yet another reminder of the greatness of the Tom Brady-Bill Belichick era in New England. As for the Minnesota Vikings, 38 unanswered points by the Nick Foles-led Philadelphia Eagles left everyone in the football world in a state of SKOL-fusion.

Still, there were some bright spots in the pair of road losses, with the Jaguars hogging the majority of them. For much of the first half of Sunday's AFC Championship Showdown it looked as if Jacksonville might pull off the unlikely. After jumping out to a 14-3 lead in the second quarter, things were looking really rosy for the Jags. Even with 14 minutes left in the game, Jacksonville was leading 20-10, but things fell apart as Brady delivered yet another win to reach the Super Bowl for the eighth time in his career.

Prior to the Patriots' late surge, it was a game worth remembering for a Jaguars franchise playing in its first conference title game since the 1999 season. Without further adieu, here's a very Jaguars-themed Greatness on the Road for Championship Sunday:

GREATNESS ON THE ROAD


Blake Bortles, Jacksonville Jaguars

After three quarters on Sunday, the improbable seemed possible. The Blake Bortles-led Jaguars held a 20-10 lead and were 11 game minutes away from reaching their first Super Bowl in franchise history. Bortles played a big part in helping the Jaguars appear capable of stealing the show.

Until Brady's Super Bowl LI flashback performance, Bortles outperformed his signal-caller counterpart. While offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett deserves credit for his strong game management of Bortles, the quarterback put in, arguably, his best game of the season -- perhaps his career considering the game's high stakes.

He completed 13 of 15 passes for 155 yards, a touchdown and an impressive 131.9 passer rating in the first half. He slowed down a bit in the second half, finishing with 23-of-36 passing for 293 yards. Still, it was a performance worthy of his No. 3-overall pedigree. It showed that Bortles might have the heart of a potential champion -- a trait that could endear him to Tom Coughlin and the rest of the Jaguars braintrust this offseason.

ALSO CONSIDERED


Leonard Fournette, Jacksonville Jaguars

When the rookie running back burrowed through the Patriots' D-line on a 4-yard TD run in the second quarter, it almost seemed as if the Jaguars were in some way destined to play in the Super Bowl. The run capped off an impressive, 10-play, clock-chewing drive against a Patriots defense that looked as vulnerable as it did so long ago in the season opener against the Chiefs.

Brady and the Patriots ultimately restored order, but Fournette was a problem for New England in the first half. He finished the game with 76 yards rushing to help provide a diverse offensive punch that helped the Jags.

Myles Jack, Jacksonville Jaguars

The second-year linebacker recorded seven tackles and was a pain for the Patriots for most of the game. He created problems in the running game and short-passing game all afternoon for New England as if struggled to gain traction in the second half with Rob Gronkowski out of the game.

Jack also didn't get fooled when Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels started reaching deep in the playbook. On a trick play pass from Brady to Danny Amendola to Dion Lewis, Jack executed one of the most memorable plays of the game when he stipped the ball out of Lewis's hands. It initially appeared that Jack managed to pick up the ball before anyone made contact with him, but officials stopped him in his tracks, saying he was down by contact.

If Jack hadn't been ruled down, who knows what could have happened? The alternate universe featuring the Jaguars taking a 17-point lead in the fourth quarter over the Patriots seems too strange to imagine (if you totally ignore what happened in Super Bowl LI, at least).

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