An improbable season for the Jaguars ended one victory short of the Super Bowl on Sunday.
As he has done many times before, New England quarterback Tom Brady engineered a successful rally, and the Patriots held on to beat the Jaguars 24-20 in the AFC Championship Game at Gillette Stadium.
Trailing by 10 entering the fourth quarter, the Patriots took a 24-20 lead when Brady found receiver Danny Amendola in the back of the end zone for a 4-yard touchdown with 2:48 remaining. Amendola got behind Jaguars free safety Tashaun Gipson and tapped his toes in-bounds on the catch.
The drive was set up by a 20-yard punt return by Amendola, which gave New England possession at the Jacksonville 30-yard line. Brady then hit running back James White for 15 yards, found Amendola for 8 and snuck for 2 to set up first-and-goal from the 5.
That gave Bortles an opportunity to lead a game-winning drive.
Bortles found Lee for a 8, and Dede Westbrook made a nice adjustment to haul in a completion for 29 yards. But an incompletion and 9-yard sack left the Jaguars facing third-and-19 from New England’s 47 at the two-minute warning.
Bortles checked down to tight end James O’Shaughnessy for 4 on third down, but his throw to Westbrook on fourth down was broken up by New England cornerback Stephon Gilmore.
The Jaguars ended their season 12-7, their highest win total since the 2007 season.
The Jaguars are one of only four teams to not appear in a Super Bowl – Cleveland, Detroit and Houston.
Although the contingent did not appear as large as last Sunday in Pittsburgh, Jaguars fans were sprinkled throughout the stadium. On Saturday night, pockets of fans were spotted in Providence’s restaurant district, located about 30 miles south of the stadium.
What those fans saw was the Jaguars’ third AFC title game defeat in as many chances. They lost after the 1996 season to the Patriots at the old Foxboro Stadium. The Patriots would lose to Green Bay in the Super Bowl. After the 1999 season, the Jaguars lost at home to Tennessee. The Titans would lose to St. Louis in the Super Bowl.
The dark days of the Jaguars began in 2008 after the team made playoff appearances in 2005 and ’07. A decade of losing bridging the ownership tenures of Wayne and Delores Weaver (until 2011) and current owner Shad Khan featured several organizational re-starts.
But this year’s team started 3-3 before winning seven of their next eight games to capture the AFC South, their first division title in 18 years. They beat Buffalo at home and won at Pittsburgh to earn a spot in the title game.
That’s where they appeared to be headed when they forced the game’s first turnover on a wacky play early in the fourth quarter.
After catching a backward pass from Brady, Amendola threw across the field to running back Dion Lewis, who was set up with blockers leading the way. Jaguars linebacker Myles Jack chased down Lewis after a 20-yard gain and stripped the ball as the two tumbled to the ground. The original call of a fumble was upheld upon review.
The Jaguars’ offense went three-and-out on the ensuing possession, and the Patriots quickly took advantage.
After an 8-yard sack by nose tackle Marcell Dareus and an incomplete pass, New England faced third-and-18 from its 25. But Brady found Amendola over the middle of the field for a 21-yard completion.
The Patriots continued their trickery on the next play, calling a flea flicker that went for a 31-yard completion to little-used receiver Phillip Dorsett. Three plays later, Brady hit Amendola for a 9-yard touchdown to cut the Jaguars’ lead to 20-17 with 8:44 remaining in the fourth quarter.
That’s where the score stood before Amendola’s late touchdown catch.
The second of Josh Lambo’s two second-half field goals gave the Jaguars a 20-10 lead less than a minute into the fourth quarter.
Lambo’s make capped a strong 11-play drive that began at the Jacksonville 9. Lee beat Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler for an 18-yard gain on third-and-3 from the 16 to jumpstart the drive. Bortles also found Allen Hurns for 15 yards on an aborted flea flicker.
Dating back to the regular season, Lambo has made 15 straight field goal attempts.
In the third quarter, Lambo was good from 54 yards. On that drive, Bortles found Yeldon for a 9-yard gain on third-and-8 from the Jacksonville 49 to keep the drive going. It ended after a pair of 3-yard runs by Fournette brought third-and-4, and Bortles had his pass on a rollout to the right batted down by Patriots defensive end Trey Flowers.
New England started the game with a swift 10-play, 62-yard drive that stalled at the Jaguars’ 10. Brady threw 31 yards to Brandin Cooks on the game’s second play and 20-yard to Danny Amendola to covert a fourth-and-1.
But on first-and-goal from the 10, strong safety Barry Church beat a block attempt to stop Lewis for a two-yard loss and Telvin Smith stopped Lewis for no gain. On third down, Dante Fowler beat fill-in right tackle Cameron Fleming for the sack (3.63 seconds).
The Jaguars’ first drive stalled at their 49-yard line, but the defense responded with a four-and-out.
The Jaguars took a 7-3 lead on Marcedes Lewis’ four-yard touchdown catch on the second play of the second quarter to cap a seven-play, 76-yard drive. Seldom-used tailback Corey Grant had catches of 20 and 24 yards on the drive. The score was the first for Lewis in five career playoff games.
After a Patriots three-and-out, the Jaguars marched right back down the field to take a 14-3 lead with 7:06 left in the first half. Bortles threw 15 yards to Grant and 27 and eight yards to Hurns. Yeldon gained 12 yards on second-and-12 from the Patriots’ 13 and Fournette converted a third-and-1. On the next play, Fournette scored on a four-yard touchdown.
On the Jaguars’ next possession, they were posed to add to the lead, reaching the Patriots’ 47 on Keelan Cole’s 26-yard catch on third-and-8. But illegal formation and delay of game penalties derailed the drive.
New England cut the lead to 14-10 at halftime thanks to two huge penalties – a 15-yard unnecessary roughness call on Church (helmet hit on Rob Gronkowski) and a 32-yard pass interference call on cornerback A.J. Bouye. The Patriots scored on James White’s 1-yard run.
Gronkowski did not return.