Inspired Jaguars knock out Mariota, rout Titans 38-17
By MARK LONG
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) Blake Bortles admittedly felt all the pressure of Jacksonville's lofty preseason expectations.
Knowing the stakes included popular coach Gus Bradley's job, Bortles played tight all season. He tried to do too much and then even more when losses mounted.
"I put way too much of it on my shoulders," Bortles said. "Probably way more than anybody else."
Bortles was finally able to let it go after Bradley was fired last week. And he responded by playing his best game of the season, maybe even his career.
In a game when Tennessee lost starting quarterback Marcus Mariota to a broken right leg, Bortles threw for 325 yards and a touchdown in a 38-17 victory Saturday that ended a nine-game losing streak. He also was on the receiving end of a 20-yard trick play with 5:25 remaining that sealed it.
"I just wanted to prove that he did the right thing by drafting me," said Bortles, who completed 26 of 38 passes and won for the first time when throwing for more than 300 yards.
Bortles and the Jaguars (3-12) played inspired football from the opening kick and won for the first time this season at EverBank Field. Their last victory at home came Dec. 13, 2015, against Indianapolis.
They rallied around interim coach Doug Marrone. They played for Bradley, who was awkwardly fired six days earlier . And they avenged an embarrassing loss to the Titans (8-7) on national television in late October.
"We showed that this is who we are," defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks said. "I think the whole `playing for Gus, playing for Doug' thing was cool at the beginning. But it was gone once we took the field. It was a payback moment. They straight-up embarrassed us on national TV. We got a second chance to play them and did what we had to do."
The outcome created a lot of head-scratching and thoughts of "Where has then been all year?"
"Man, I don't know. I really don't know," said rookie cornerback Jalen Ramsey, who returned an interception 30 yards late and set off a raucous - and long-awaited - celebration in Jacksonville. "What I do know is Gus is definitely a part of this."
It was a debacle for the Titans, who had won three in a row and seven of 10. All they needed to do was beat reeling Jacksonville to set up an AFC South title game next week against Houston. Instead, they lost, and the Texans beat Cincinnati to clinch the division for the second straight year and eliminate Tennessee.
Losing Mariota made the day even worse.
Mariota fractured his fibula late in the third quarter, with Tennessee trailing 25-10. Rookie Sheldon Day sacked Mariota as he scrambled on first down, grabbing him around the ankles. Mariota signaled to the sideline as he pounded the ground. Trainers rushed to his side, put on the air cast and lifted Mariota onto a cart. Teammates and even some Jaguars patted Mariota on the shoulders before he excited.
"That breaks my heart, man," Titans offensive tackle Taylor Lewan said. "Love him. That guy's an awesome dude. For that to happen to him, it's unfair."
Journeyman Matt Cassel replaced Mariota and completed 13 of 24 passes for 124 yards, with a touchdown and an interception. His 14-yard score to Delanie Walker made it 25-17, but Jacksonville answered on the ensuing drive. Cassel will be the starter for the season finale.
"Cassel is a guy who's been around a long time and has won a lot of games," Titans running back DeMarco Murray said. "He's the next guy up and he prepares every single day, every single week like he's the starter, so I know he'll be ready to play."
Marqise Lee's first pass of his football career - from Pop Warner all the way up to the NFL - went for a touchdown. Lee got the ball on an end-around, pulled up and then found Bortles wide open down the left sideline to put the Jaguars up 31-17.
"That was my first game-time throw, game-time play," Lee said. "I'm not a quarterback."
According to the NFL, Bortles and Lee became the first quarterback-receiver combination to throw TD passes to each other in same game since Week 4 of the 1985 season. Chicago Bears greats Jim McMahon and Walter Payton were the last to accomplish the feat.
Titans: Host Houston in their regular-season finale.
Jaguars: Visit Indianapolis to wrap up the worst season in franchise history.
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Updated December 24, 2016