Jaguars hold off Bills, advance to face Steelers

Hosting their first home playoff game since Y2K, the Jacksonville Jaguars snuffed out the Buffalo Bills 10-3 to advance to the AFC Divisional Round. Here's what you need to know:

  1. This white-knuckle affair resembled a brand of football your grandfather's grandfather watched on a 12-inch black-and-white boob tube in fire-lit parlors during ancient days of old.

A thing of beauty it was not -- not on offense, at least -- but the Jaguars are on their way to Pittsburgh after nabbing Sunday's physical throwdown. It marks Jacksonville's first playoff victory in 10 years, but knocking out the Steelers next Sunday will require this squad to double its efforts. The defense remains a glorious beast and deserves credit for keeping Buffalo's offense under water while patiently waiting for its own attack to awaken. Jaguars fans will quickly remind you that Pittsburgh stumbled badly against Jacksonville in a 30-9 battering in Week 5. Fair point. This defense is truly special and anything is possible in a week-to-week league, but the Steelers have evolved on offense while Jacksonville's attempt to the move the ball is a new adventure weekly.

  1. The Bills made their mission clear: Shut down rookie workhorse runner Leonard Fournette and force Jaguars passer Blake Bortles to make plays through the air. The strategy worked wonders out of the gate, with Bortles throwing for just 33 first-half yards while vastly struggling with accuracy. The bad moments were ghastly, with Bortles reverting to long streaks of ugly footwork, jittery tosses and a noticeable lack of confidence. Jacksonville was a raging, bubbling mess on offense before the break, but Bortles shook off his ugly handiwork to author a 15-play, 86-yard, third-quarter scoring march that milked nearly nine minutes off the clock before the signal-caller dialed up a daring fourth-and-goal, play-action touchdown strike to tight end Ben Koyack. Fournette served as an engine on that drive, piling up 48 yards off nine touches. Bortles, meanwhile, helped the offense with a team-leading and season-high 89 yards rushing. His ability to scramble for first downs remains his finest gift -- Bortles is truly fun to watch on that front -- but he wound up running for more yards than he threw. How long can the Jaguars survive with such a skittish performer under center?
  1. Tyrod Taylor was nothing to write home about, either, throwing a costly first-half pick and overseeing an offense doubling as a punt machine. With four chances to tie the game in the second half, Taylor couldn't move the ball. The Bills quarterback dialed up too many off-target throws and wasn't helped by a handful of drops. Buffalo's lone score came off an 18-play, 71-yard march capped by Steven Hauschka's 31-yard field goal on a blustery afternoon in Northern Florida. The eight-plus-minute march was the longest given up time-wise all season by the Jaguars, magnifying a first half that saw Jacksonville hold the ball for just under nine minutes. Buffalo was helped on the drive by a rash of killer penalties by the Jaguars, including a costly unnecessary roughness flag on Yannick Ngakoue, the result of a helmet-to-helmet collision with Taylor. Wipe this series away and Jacksonville's defense played a nearly perfect game.
  1. Taylor's afternoon ended in ugly fashion, with the quarterback lying motionless on the field after a third-down sack by Dante Fowler with 1:17 left on the clock. Bills coach Sean McDermott told reporters after the game that Taylor is in the concussion protocol. Rookie Nathan Peterman took over on fourth-and-3 from the Buffalo 42 and the game on the line. The newbie signal-caller scrambled for a first down and found Deonte Thompson for 14 yards before getting flagged for intentional grounding on the following snap. One play later, with Buffalo's season on the brink, Peterman was intercepted by the amazing Jalen Ramsey to end the game.
  1. LeSean McCoy doesn't get enough credit for operating as one of the league's toughest, most dependable ground-and-pound wonders. After missing practice all week with the right ankle injury he suffered in the regular-season finale, McCoy was in and out of the lineup and spelled by Mike Tolbert. Buffalo's workhorse managed 75 yards at 3.9 yards per carry and looked spry on a 25-yard blast through a Jacksonville front seven missing linebacker Paul Posluszny. His biggest play of the day, though -- a 39-yard catch and run on a fourth-quarter drive -- was wiped away by penalty.
  1. Jacksonville's young receivers showed promise down the stretch this season, but barely made a dent on Sunday with Bortles whipping short-range, drunken bullets to and fro. Dede Westbrook (5/48) is a future star, but he can't do it alone. Back-from-injury Marqise Lee was invisible and Keelan Cole was on the sideline more than once during key third-down pass attempts. It all channels back to Bortles, whose 33 first-half yards were the fewest by a quarterback in a playoff game since Russell Wilson threw for 12 yards in the first half of the 2014 NFC Championship Game. That's where comparisons to Seattle's magical signal-caller come to an end.
  1. Lost in the haze of a tough playoff defeat for Buffalo: A wonderful performance by linebacker Lorenzo Alexander, who piled up a team-leading 10 tackles, one sack, two tackles for loss and a brilliant stuff of Fournette on a goal-line carry.
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