It is a measure of just how low the bar has fallen for the Jaguars’ offense that All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey was this enthused about the team’s production in Sunday’s win over the Bills in the AFC wild-card round.
“I’m proud of our offense for getting that one touchdown,” Ramsey said after the Jaguars’ 10-3 win advanced them to this Sunday’s divisional-round matchup against the Steelers.
That one touchdown.
That’s what it’s come to for a team that scratched out a win over the Bills, who barely qualified for the playoffs, thanks in part to Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton’s fourth-and-12 touchdown pass that knocked the Ravens out and put the Bills in.
Even Jaguars coach Doug Marrone said after the game he’d “be a fool to sit here and say I’m not concerned” about his offense. “Obviously, if you want to keep playing, you’re going to have to do a better job.”
Quarterback Blake Bortles had a mostly brutal game, throwing for just 87 yards while running for 88. In fact, his scrambling turned out to be critical on the team’s lone touchdown drive. A similar game against the Steelers almost certainly won’t be enough for the Jaguars to advance to the AFC Championship Game.
But for all the concern about the offense — and that concern runs deep — it only makes the Jaguars’ punishing defense that much more meaningful. And there may actually be an unintended benefit that comes with those struggles on offense: The defensive players have embraced the idea that they are the ones who ultimately will determine the team’s fate.
So for all the hand-wringing about Bortles, his struggles have actually focused a bright light on a defense that has become one of the best in the game. And if the Jaguars somehow keep going in this year’s playoffs, it will be because of that defense.
“We embrace that,” linebacker Myles Jack said. “When the game is on the line, we can’t give up anything. If the pressure’s on us to stop [the opponent], we embrace that. We’ve been in that situation enough now to own up to it.”
Even if the result is an ugly win like the one against the Bills, Jack doesn’t care.
“I don’t care what people call it,” Ramsey said. “We got a playoff win. We’re going to come to work for another week, while other teams are sitting at home.”
The Jaguars’ defense was at its best against the Bills, limiting Tyrod Taylor to 134 passing yards on 37 attempts. That’s the fewest passing yards allowed in a playoff game with 35-plus attempts since the Giants’ Kerry Collins had 112 yards on 39 attempts in a 34-7 loss to the Ravens in Super Bowl XXXV.
The pass defense once again will be critical in determining whether the Jaguars score an upset against the Steelers at Heinz Field. With Ben Roethlisberger coming off another strong season with 28 touchdown passes and 14 interceptions, the Steelers are rested and ready.
But don’t forget that the Jaguars demolished the Steelers on the road during the regular season in a 30-9 win, forcing Roethlisberger into a career-high five interceptions. That’s more than a third of his interception total for the season.
“Ben said he wants to play us, so he gonna get what he asked for,” Jaguars cornerback A.J. Bouye said.
Defensive lineman Malik Jackson, who predicted before the season that the Jaguars would win the Super Bowl, still feels confident.
“[The Steelers] are healthy and ready to go,” he said. “We have to make sure we get ourselves ready to go.”
A member of the Broncos’ Super Bowl 50 championship team, Jackson knows the best way for another Super Bowl run goes through the Jaguars’ defense.
“If [the offense] can’t move the ball, we understand we get more opportunities to go out there and be great,” he said. “I think we can climb to the moon and farther. The stars are the limit for us.”