Bortles, Jaguars scratch and claw way to victory against Titans
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The Jacksonville Jaguars have their first winning streak in more than two years. This one has them squarely in the hunt in the muddled AFC South.
Rashad Greene returned a punt 63 yards, setting up Blake Bortles’ 5-yard touchdown pass to Julius Thomas with 3:30 remaining, and the Jaguars beat the Tennessee Titans 19-13 on Thursday night.
"We’ve been in these one-possession games all season. To see us do enough to get the win was great," Jaguars coach Gus Bradley said. "Fortunately, we came out on the good end."
The Jaguars (4-6) won consecutive games for the first time since December 2013 and gained ground in the division race. They have won three of four.
The Titans (2-8) lost for the eighth time in nine games and spoiled interim coach Mike Mularkey’s return to Jacksonville. Mularkey was fired after one season with the Jaguars, a 2-14 campaign in 2012.
For much of the night it looked as if Mularkey would celebrate a rare win in Jacksonville.
But Greene, a rookie who missed the last seven games while recovering from a torn ligament in his left thumb, took a low kick and weaved his way down the near sideline before finally getting tackled at the 5.
Bortles hooked up with Thomas on the next play, putting Jacksonville ahead 16-13. It was an easy call for Bortles, who noticed linebacker Derrick Morgan lined up across from Thomas before the snap.
"One on one with really a defensive end," Bortles said. "That’s kind of a mismatch."
Titans tight end Phillip Supernaw fumbled on the ensuing possession, leading to Jason Myers’ fourth field goal of the night and a six-point lead with 2:19 remaining.
"My fault on that play," Supernaw said. "I didn’t cover the ball up enough and the guy made a good play on it. My ball security wasn’t as good as it should have been. No matter what bad happens, this team is always going to fight, like we did on that last drive."
Tennessee had one final chance and advanced to the 23 with 5 seconds remaining. But Andre Branch sacked Marcus Mariota on the final play. Branch did his usual windmill dance as he was mobbed by teammates.
Bortles, who left the sideline briefly to be treated for dehydration, completed 21 of 30 passes for 242 yards.
"I had to get some good Gatorade, some fluids," Bortles said.
The second-year pro extended his touchdown streak to 10 games. He also had two turnovers that kept Jacksonville from getting ahead earlier in the game.
The Jaguars failed to score on their first three trips inside the 20. Bortles threw an interception at the 12, adding to the team’s woes in and near the red zone. But he made the play when it mattered.
Myers made kicks from 31, 32, 20 and 36 yards.
The biggest head-scratcher for Jacksonville was running backup Denard Robinson three times, beginning with a first-and-goal play from the 7 early in the third quarter. Robinson was stopped for no gain on the final two carries.
Allen Robinson caught five passes for 113 yards. Thomas finished with five receptions for 28 yards and his second touchdown of the season. Allen Hurns saw his seven-game touchdown streak come to an end. He caught three passes for 19 yards.
Mariota completed 22 of 35 passes for 231 yards. He also ran for a 23-yard score that put the Titans ahead 13-9 late in the third quarter. His top target once again was tight end Delanie Walker, who finished with 109 yards on eight receptions.
"We made a couple mistakes and had some sacks there at the end and that really hurt us," Walker said. "But the big punt return really did us in. It’s frustrating to lose a game like this."
Mariota played turnover-free football for the fourth time on the road, but it wasn’t enough, especially since he was without receivers Kendall Wright and Justin Hunter.
Running back Dexter McCluster joined the injury ranks when he injured his right leg in the second half and did not return.
Both teams needed a win to stay in the mix in the AFC South.
Houston and Indianapolis are tied for the division lead at 4-5, but the Texans likely will be without quarterback Brian Hoyer at least this week and the Colts could be without quarterback Andrew Luck for multiple games.
So the division is up for grabs. And the Jaguars made the big move.
Jacksonville plays three of its next four at home and has the easiest remaining schedule of any team in the league.
Notes: The teams play again in two weeks. … Titans OLB Brian Orapko finished with a forced fumble, a sack and a pass defense. He has at least one sack in four consecutive games. … Mariota was sacked four times. He had been sacked just once in the previous two games.