It’s not that the Jaguars beat the Houston Texans easily to qualify for the post-season for the first time since 2007, not even how they dominated all over the field winning 45-7. It might be who’s making plays for the Jaguars that are the biggest surprise.
Midway through the first quarter Marqise Lee left the Jaguars game against the Texans with an injured ankle. He was hurt on a running play of all things. Since the Jaguars only dressed four wide receivers for the game, it forced punt returner Jaydon Mickens into the game.
“Who’d of thought that in week 14 the Jaguars would be playing with a guy off the street, an undrafted free agent and their 4th round pick as their wide receivers?” my colleague Brian Jackson said in the press box. “And getting the job done?”
But that’s exactly what happened against the Texans as Blake Bortles and the Jaguars offense got untracked early and dominated Houston in the first half, 31-0.
Already with the top quarterback rating in the league in December, Bortles was 17 of 25 for 246 yards and 3 TD’s with a 139 rating in the first half. Only Mark Brunell had thrown for three touchdowns in the first half of the game in Jaguars history.
And all of it done with three guys catching it that didn’t figure to get much playing time when the season started.
“He worked and worked and did everything he could to make this team,” Jaguars Vice President of Football Operations Tom Coughlin said of Keelan Cole when the original 53 man roster was announced. Cole was on the team, but pretty far down the depth chart with Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns and Marqise Lee slated as starters.
Cole played at Kentucky Wesleyan in college and said after his first preseason game in New England that it was the largest crowd he’d ever played in front of as a football player. We figured out that the crowd at his first game was bigger than the sum total of fans that had ever seen him play throughout his career. Cole has great speed and made some catches in the preseason but a few drops also showed he was still a rookie. Nonetheless, he was pressed into action when Robinson went out with a torn ACL in the Jaguars opener.
When he was drafted in the 4th round, Dede Westbrook knew he had something to prove. From a Heisman finalist, Westbrook fell out of favor with NFL teams after some off-field, domestic violence issues. The Jaguars drafted him in the 4th round as a “prove it” pick and while he showed promise in the preseason, the Jaguars were deep at receiver and he was somewhat injured so they put him on revocable injured reserve. All he was expected to do was work, stay in shape, learn the offense and be ready. When he was activated, you saw on a couple of plays why he was such a highly regarded college player at Oklahoma. But he was still a rookie.
After being cut by the Raiders, Jaydon Mickens was out of football when the Jaguars signed him to their practice squad. Mickens and fellow rookie Larry Pinkard weren’t sure what their future would bring but they desperately wanted to be football players. So they slept in their cars in the parking lot of the stadium during their practice squad days.
“It wasn’t any big deal,” Mickens told us earlier this week. “We’d hang out at Marqise’s or wherever until it was time to leave at night and just go to our cars and get some sleep. Then we’d get up, go into the stadium, workout, eat, and spend the day there.”
In case you’re wondering, Mickens drives a Nissan Altima, so he folded the back seats down to he could stretch out into the trunk. “I’d use some towels or whatever to make a pillow,” he told us.
So when the Jaguars only had four receivers active for the Houston game, Mickens was pressed into service when Lee left with an ankle injury.
With those three guys on the receiving end, Blake kept his hit streak going, hitting Mickens twice and Cole once for touchdowns. In addition to the TD catches, Mickens caught beautiful corner throws by Bortles and Cole was the recipient of another great throw by Blake down the sideline that turned into a 73 yard reception and a first down at the one.
Add two Tommy Bohannon touchdowns from short yardage and everybody was getting in the act. The two Bohannon TD’s were from a position the Jaguars didn’t even have on the roster the past few years.
While Bortles is playing great and the wide receivers are “playing above the x’s and o’s” as Coughlin likes to say, the defense continues to dominate. If we’ve learned anything from the 2017 Jaguars it’s that defense travels. No matter where, no matter who the opponent is, defense can carry a team to victory. DeAndre Hopkins caught a touchdown pass over Jalen Ramsey in the third quarter to give the Texans their only points in the game. Ramsey was so irritated he wouldn’t let any of his teammates talk to him when he came to the sideline. It’s that kind of swagger and attitude, wanting a shutout, that allows you to win 45-7. (Corey Grant scored a TD in the 4th quarter)
Against an overmatched Texans offensive line, Calais Campbell recorded his franchise record 14.5 sack, helping bring the team’s season total to 50. Telvin Smith returned to the lineup giving defensive coordinator Todd Wash more flexibility.
While Houston is banged up and terrible this year, the Jaguars did what you’re supposed to do this time of the season against an inferior team: Beat them easily and move on.
It brings up some interesting scenarios for the post-season. Next week’s game at San Francisco has the possibility of clinching the division for the Jaguars. They’ve never won the AFC South since it was formed in 2002. Both of their division titles came when they were in the AFC Central.
Winning the division gives the Jaguars a home playoff game but it’s possible, if they win out, they could move up to the #2 seed, have a first round bye and play a home game the following week.
Pretty heady stuff for a team that won three games last year.