DeAndre Hopkins

Jaguars’ Ramsey relishes All-Pro matchup vs Steelers’ Brown

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) Blake Bortles remembers the first time Jalen Ramsey got under his skin.

Bortles was trying to get through a two-minute drill during the 2016 season. It was a weekly walkthrough routine in which players were supposed to go half-speed while practicing plays. Normally, there’s no contact and every pass is complete.

At least that had been the case until Ramsey arrived.

Bortles threw several passes in Ramsey’s direction. The rookie intercepted or knocked down each one.

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It happened week after week until Bortles finally stopped throwing Ramsey’s way.

“It was so annoying,” Bortles recalled Thursday.

It also set the tone for Ramsey’s career. The trash-talking cornerback has a flair for frustrating quarterbacks and receivers and the ability to essentially shut down one side of the field. After 33 games, Ramsey’s already considered among the best players in franchise history – a 23-year-old rising star who openly aspires to be as good as Hall of Famer Deion Sanders and often looks the part.

“The best I’ve ever seen in person,” Bortles said. “He’s freakish.”

Ramsey is a major piece of Jacksonville’s defensive turnaround, and he’ll take center stage Sunday when the Jaguars (11-6) play in the divisional round of the AFC playoffs at Pittsburgh (13-3).

Ramsey will shadow Antonio Brown , widely considered the best receiver in the NFL.

All-Pro vs. All-Pro, undoubtedly the most intriguing matchup of the postseason game.

“It’s not many receivers I’m going to come in here in front of y’all and say they’re one of the best in the league,” Ramsey said. “He is, though. That’s the truth about him.”

Brown caught 10 passes for 157 yards in the first meeting against Jacksonville, which won 30-9 in early October. Ben Roethlisberger targeted Brown a staggering 19 times, with three of those ending up as interceptions.

“He’s an elite player,” Ramsey said. “Highly regarded by everybody, honestly, around the nation or maybe internationally. So, yeah, it’s going to be a challenge. We’re going to have to be on our Ps and Qs and try to execute the game plan as best we can.”

Jacksonville’s game plan has changed slightly since the first meeting.

Ramsey and fellow Pro Bowl cornerback A.J. Bouye played sides to start the season, covering whatever receiver lined up in front of them. But Ramsey has since started following the top wideout for every opponent all over the field, and he’s had rousing success against Houston’s DeAndre Hopkins, Indianapolis’ T.Y. Hilton, Cincinnati’s A.J. Green, Arizona’s Larry Fitzgerald, Los Angeles Chargers’ Keenan Allen and San Francisco’s Marquise Goodwin.

Ramsey angered Green so much with his constant verbal jabs that the mild-mannered receiver grabbed the cocky cornerback in a headlock and tossed him to the ground. Both players were ejected.

“He’ll get in a guy’s head now,” linebacker Telvin Smith said.

Added Bouye: “Everything he’s accomplished, he’s worked for it. He’s capitalized. He’s learned from his mistakes and he keeps getting better week in and week out.”

According to Pro Football Focus, Ramsey has allowed 47 receptions for 586 yards and three touchdowns this season. He has five interceptions, including one to seal a 10-3 victory against Buffalo in a wild-card game.

It was about what the Jaguars have come to expect from the fifth overall pick in the 2016 draft. He has a rare combination of size, speed, instincts, ball skills and body control. And he’s no longer a rookie.

“You see the maturity in the meetings and you see the maturity on the grass,” defensive coordinator Todd Wash said. “We always knew he was a freak athlete and we always knew he could play. But that maturity level is getting better and better each day.”

His matchup against Brown will be his next – and maybe his best – challenge.

“It’s going to be an unbelievable thing,” Jaguars safety Barry Church said. “I’m just glad I’m on the field for it. Those guys, they both like to talk a bit of trash and they’re going to be matched up with each other the whole game. It’s going to be a great one. We’ll see who gets the better of the two, but my money’s on Jalen.”

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O’Brien says he’ll never resign as coach of the Texans

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HOUSTON (AP) Coach Bill O’Brien was emphatic on Monday about his desire to remain with the Houston Texans, a day after the team dropped to 4-10 with an embarrassing 45-7 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars.

“I will never quit as the head football coach of the Houston Texans,” he said. “Ever.”

O’Brien, who has one more season left on his contract, was asked if he had thought about resigning after the Texans complete what will be the first losing season in his time with the team.

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“I’m not a quitter,” he said. “I was raised in a family that believed in family, faith, education and never quit. So, I never will.”

O’Brien’s job security has become a topic of discussion in recent weeks as injuries and inconsistent quarterback play have led to four straight losses, one win in the last eight games. He spent a sizable chunk of his media availability Monday discussing his future, his relationship with general manager Rick Smith, and whether he would like to sign an extension to remain with the Texans.

He dismissed the notion speculation about his job is getting to him.

“All I’m worried about is this team,” he said. “All I’m worried about is this team and this coaching staff. That’s really all I really care about.”

The Texans are trying to regroup and focus on how they can play better before they host the Pittsburgh Steelers next Monday. They’ll likely have to do it with third-string quarterback T.J. Yates, who struggled Sunday in his first start since 2015. O’Brien said Monday there was a chance Tom Savage could miss the rest of the season while recovering from a concussion, leaving Yates as the team’s best option at the position.

Yates was 12 of 31 for just 128 yards with a touchdown and an interception Sunday. He could have to work behind a makeshift offensive line against the Steelers after right guard Jeff Allen sustained a concussion against the Jaguars, and center Nick Martin suffered what O’Brien called a “serious” ankle injury.

If Allen can’t play the Texans will look to rookie Julien Davenport, who has appeared in nine games with two starts, to fill in. O’Brien evaluated the work he did on Sunday after the injuries.

“He did OK,” O’Brien said. “He’s young. He’s been injured. He’s going to be good. He’s a great kid. Very focused guy … it was some good, some not so good, and he was blocking on some real good guys. So, I think it’ll be a good experience for him.”

O’Brien believes his team has continued to play hard despite the poor results and expects that to continue in Houston’s last two games.

“We’ve got to play better,” he said. “It’s not a matter of effort. I just went through the tape. I looked at it real close. These guys are playing hard, it’s just a matter of execution and better play calls, and just trying to do a better job. I just want them to continue to be who they are, which they’re tough, they’re competitive guys, and they have a lot of pride. I just want them to continue to play hard.”

One player who has undoubtedly continued to compete at a high level despite Houston’s struggles is receiver DeAndre Hopkins. He’s one of the few bright spots in a season been marred by injuries to stars J.J. Watt, Deshaun Watson and Whitney Mercilus. Hopkins leads the NFL with a franchise-record 12 touchdown receptions, and his 1,313 yards receiving are second to Antonio Brown despite playing with three quarterbacks this season.

“I think he’s the best receiver in the league,” O’Brien said. “He’s big. He’s strong. He’s got great ability on the sideline. He’s such a great competitor on Sundays. He wants the ball. He wants the ball thrown to him.”

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Jaguars thump Texans 45-7 for 1st playoff berth since 2007

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) The Jacksonville Jaguars are returning to the playoffs for the first time in a decade thanks to a 45-7 drubbing of rival Houston on Sunday.

Once the NFL’s poster child for futility and a punchline for potential relocation, the Jaguars (10-4) are now one of the league’s top turnaround stories.

Blake Bortles threw three touchdowns passes, including two to a reserve receiver who slept in his car earlier this season. The Jaguars won for the seventh time in eight games to clinch a postseason berth for the first time since 2007.

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Bortles finished with a season-high 326 yards and the best QB rating (143.8) of his career, including 186 yards and a touchdown to rookie Keelan Cole. Primary punt returner Jaydon Mickens, who stepped in for injured starter Marqise Lee in the first quarter, caught four passes for 61 yards and two scores against the Texans (4-10).

It was a career day for Mickens, who said this week he spent nights in his car outside the facility while on the practice squad in September and October. He did it to save money, not knowing how long he would remain in town.

Now, he and teammates will be getting playoff checks.

That’s a huge change for Jacksonville. The Jaguars were an NFL-worst 22-74 over the previous six years, more a laughingstock than a postseason contender.

Owner Shad Khan fired coach Gus Bradley one year ago Sunday, following a close loss at Houston. Khan hired Tom Coughlin to oversee football decisions and made interim Doug Marrone the head coach. Coughlin and Marrone added several key players and changed the culture with a grueling offseason and training camp.

The Jags got off to an up-and-down start, but have hit their stride down the stretch.

Bortles has been better than expected of late, with seven touchdown passes and no turnovers the last three games. Cole and fellow rookie Dede Westbrook have been equally impressive.

The Jags didn’t even need rookie Leonard Fournette on Sunday. He was inactive because of a sore right quadriceps muscle.

Jacksonville’s defense has been the glue all season and was dominant again. Jacksonville led 31-0 for the biggest halftime lead in team history.

The defense had one lapse, when DeAndre Hopkins beat Jalen Ramsey for gains of 40 and 25 yards in the third quarter. The second one went for a touchdown.

T.J. Yates, making his first start since 2015, was mostly ineffective in place of Tom Savage (concussion). Yates completed 12 of 31 passes for 128 yards, with the TD and an interception.

INJURIES

Texans: Center Nick Martin (ankle) and right guard Jeff Allen (concussion) left in the second half. Linebacker Benardrick McKinney injured a shoulder making a touchdown-saving tackle on a punt return.

Jaguars: Lee injured his right ankle in the first quarter and was later ruled out. Ramsey (groin), defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. (hamstring) and safety Peyton Thompson (foot) left the game but later returned.

QUESTIONABLE CALL

The Texans could have run out the clock trailing 24-0 late in the first half, but with 53 seconds remaining and three timeouts, coach Bill O’Brien decided to try to get something going. Yates threw an interception, and the Jaguars scored three plays later.

UP NEXT

Texans: Host Pittsburgh next Monday in the team’s home finale.

Jaguars: Play at San Francisco on Sunday.

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