Jurrell Casey

Jaguars QB Bortles says criticism will ‘probably never stop’

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) Blake Bortles‘ first postseason victory came with a hefty dose of criticism, maybe even more than ever before.

The Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback handled it as well as he did Buffalo’s pass rush.

“It’ll probably never stop,” Bortles said Wednesday. “There’s people that think LeBron James sucks, so if that happens, I’m sure there will be a lot of people that always think I suck.”

The latest insults came from Tennessee Titans safety Kevin Byard and retired NFL quarterback Chris Simms.

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Byard told the Tennessean this week he wants to make New England’s Tom Brady looks like Bortles. Byard intercepted two of Bortles’ passes in the regular-season finale in Nashville.

“This is a playoff game, so I don’t really care if it was Joe Montana,” Byard said. “You know what I’m saying? I’m trying to go out there and win the game. I want to make him look like Blake Bortles if I can and try to catch a couple picks. Tom Brady is a great quarterback, but it’s a playoff game.”

Simms told The Dan Le Batard Show with Stugotz on Tuesday that Bortles is 70th in his NFL quarterback rankings, below backups Chad Henne (Jacksonville), T.J. Yates (Houston) and Nathan Peterman (Buffalo).

Former Jaguars left tackle Tony Boselli called into the show to defend Bortles, saying it’s “the most ignorant, asinine statement I’ve ever heard.”

None of it seemed to bother Bortles, who has been sullied all season .

Titans defensive end Jurrell Casey told a Nashville radio station last week that “as long as Bortles is back there, if the ballgame is in his hands, he’s going to choke.”

Bortles also has been publicly ripped by Houston defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, Seattle safety Earl Thomas and Cincinnati linebacker Vontaze Burfict in the past two months.

“Players or peers talking about you is a little new,” Bortles said last week.

Bortles’ performance against the Bills was far from his best.

He completed 12 of 23 passes for 87 yards and a touchdown. He never settled into a rhythm, and with the game tied in the second half, he stopped throwing and starting scrambling. He finished with 88 yards on the ground, becoming the first quarterback since Atlanta’s Michael Vick in 2004 to win a playoff game with more rushing yards than passing.

“There’s two different ways to look at it,” Bortles said. “You kind of look at the numbers and look at the game and say, `You played terrible.’ Or you look at it and say, `Things weren’t going right here and you found a way to win and be efficient and move the ball and do different things.’ I think that’s how I feel about it. We didn’t have our A-game. I missed a couple throws. Things weren’t going well.

“But you know scrambling around and doing some different things, and guys making some plays, we found a way to score one more time than they did. That’s all you’ve got to do.”

The Jaguars (11-6) won the wild-card game 10-3, with the lone touchdown coming on Bortles’ 1-yard pass on a fourth-and-goal play, and advanced to play at second-seeded Pittsburgh (13-3) on Sunday.

Jacksonville beat the Steelers 30-9 in Pittsburgh earlier this season. Bortles threw just one pass in the second half as the Jags dominated thanks to five interceptions, including two returned for touchdowns, and a season-high 231 yards rushing.

Bortles completed 8 of 14 passes for 95 yards, with an interception.

“Hopefully we can throw less,” Bortles said. “That would be awesome. Leonard goes off again and those guys up front play as well they did last time and we can run the ball up there and not have to throw at all. That was something that happened last time, but you never know. … It could be another one of those games or it could be you go up there and throw it 50 times.”

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X-factor: A running Mariota gives Titans another dimension

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Tennessee offensive coordinator Terry Robiskie might have been the happiest person at practice watching quarterback Marcus Mariota look like, well, Mariota.

The quarterback brushed aside a safety with a stiff-arm on his way to a big run.

When Mariota is running, the Titans are usually all smiles because their offense shows signs of life.

“That’s what we know he’s capable of doing, and when he’s capable of doing that, it helps our offense again I’ll tell you probably 80 percent,” Robiskie said Wednesday. “I hate to say that, but if he can’t do that or he’s in position that he can’t do that or that don’t happen, we’re not the offense we’re trying to be.”

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Mariota ran a career-high 10 times for a season-high 60 yards to help the Titans earn their first playoff berth since 2008. Better yet, teammates saw a swagger in Mariota as he got off the ground and stared down a defender to make them confident their quarterback is feeling good, possibly even as he did before a broken right leg ended his 2016 season a game early.

“That’s old Marcus, before the injury,” Pro Bowl defensive lineman Jurrell Casey. “That’s him. This is the Marcus I been waiting to see — him using them legs and making things happen. We need to see that more out of him going forward.”

Titans coach Mike Mularkey loved Mariota’s body language, and now the Titans (9-7) need their quarterback who won the 2014 Heisman Trophy to keep running Saturday when they visit Kansas City (10-6) for an AFC wild-card game.

“We’re at that point right now when every man needs to do whatever he can, whatever it takes, to make this thing go,” Mularkey said. “It was good to see what he did the other night. Obviously, it helped us win the football game. I think it helped him gain a little confidence too that he can do more.”

An NFL quarterback needing a confidence boost sounds unusual, but Mariota’s third season with the Titans has easily been his worst statistically with a career-low 13 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. Mariota has a career-high five TDs rushing, but the quarterback who missed six quarters in October with a strained left hamstring had his lowest average per carry yet at 5.2 yards per attempt.

The Titans dropped from third in the NFL in rushing last season to 15th this season.

Chiefs coach Andy Reid has seen enough of Mariota after the quarterback led a game-winning drive late last season to know they have to be careful when he starts running.

“You don’t ever get tricked by that kind of speed that he has,” Reid said. “When he kicks that thing into overdrive, he can go, so you have to stay very disciplined with him. That will be one of the challenges for my defense.”

Mariota, who converted four first downs with his legs in the fourth quarter of last week’s 15-10 win over the Jaguars , said he just took advantage of how Jacksonville was playing the Titans. Mariota says running came partially from feeling better and simple necessity.

“At this point in time, every guy is probably not going to feel 100 percent,” Mariota said. “It’s just that time of the year. With the magnitude of these games, you’ve got to win these games. You’re going to find a way to make a play and hopefully help your team win.”

Mariota has heard a lot from friends and fans on how he stiff-armed Jaguars safety Barry Church. So does he think he has his “swagger” back just in time for his NFL playoff debut?

“It was just me being me,” Mariota said. “Again, I’m going to do whatever it takes to win. This is the time in the season where you’ve just got to lay it all on the line.”

Notes: Derrick Henry said Wednesday he was not happy at all with his performance last week with 28 carries for 51 yards. He took a screen 66 yards for the Titans’ lone offensive touchdown. But Henry said he didn’t feel like a workhorse back and “kind of felt soft.” Henry says he hasn’t stopped thinking about that game since the game ended and has been working hard to be better. … RB DeMarco Murray (right knee), CB Logan Ryan and S Da'Norris Searcy (illness) and CB Brice McCain (hamstring) did not practice Wednesday.

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Follow Teresa M. Walker at http://www.twitter.com/teresamwalker

Cardinals beat Titans on Dawson’s 4 field goals

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GLENDALE, Ariz. — Phil Dawson kicked four second-half field goals and the Arizona Cardinals shut down Tennessee’s offense nearly all day Sunday in a 12-7 victory over the Titans, who had entered the game leading the AFC South.

Dawson connected from 47, 23, 32 and 35 yards and missed from 40 for the Cardinals (6-7), whose victory came two weeks after they beat then-AFC South leader Jacksonville on the same field.

The Cardinals intercepted Marcus Mariota twice in the second half after the Titans (8-5) nursed a 7-0 lead at halftime.

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Mariota completed 16 of 31 passes for 159 yards. Tennessee managed 65 yards rushing against the Cardinals after gaining 198 on the ground in a win over Houston a week ago.

Mariota was 6 of 16 for 60 yards with two picks in the second half.

The Cardinals gained 64 yards in the first half and 197 in the second.

Blaine Gabbert completed 17 of 26 for 178 yards for Arizona with no interceptions, but was sacked eight times, most by a Cardinals quarterback this season. Kerwynn Williams rushed for 73 yards as Arizona outgained Tennessee on the ground 136-65.

The lone score of the first two quarters came after Andy Lee‘s 33-yard punt gave Tennessee the ball at the 50. The Titans needed nine plays, Derrick Henry sweeping right and diving at the pylon on the 6-yard touchdown play.

Mariota directed the Titans on a drive from their 26-yard line to the Arizona 40 in the final 49 seconds of the half, but Ryan Succop‘s 58-yard field goal try bounced off the crossbar.

Arizona took the second-half kickoff and, despite Tennessee getting two sacks, got a 47-yard field goal from Dawson to cut the lead to 7-3.

Then came a big Tennessee gamble that failed.

After the subsequent kickoff, the Titans faked a punt on fourth-and-1 from their 35. Initially, officials ruled that Eric Weems had made the first down. But Arizona coach Bruce Arians challenged the spot and, after a review, it was determined the runner came up a few inches short.

The Cardinals took over and Dawson’s 23-yard field goal cut the lead to 7-6.

Dawson missed a 40 yarder that would have given the Cardinals the lead with 12:04 to play. But the 42-year-old kicker would get another chance.

Rookie Chad Williams ran 33 yards on an end-around to ignite an eight-play, 71-yard drive that culminated in Dawson’s 32-yard field goal to put Arizona ahead 9-7 with 5:59 to play. Gabbert overthrew a wide-open Larry Fitzgerald in the end zone on third down to force the field goal.

Josh Bynes intercepted Mariota over the middle on the next possession and returned it 25 yards. A late-hit penalty against the Titans play moved the ball to the Tennessee 7. Jurrell Casey‘s second sack of the game forced yet another field goal by Dawson, good from 35 yards to finish the scoring.

FITZ MOVES UP

With his 23-yard catch on the Cardinals’ first possession of the second half, Fitzgerald moved past his boyhood idol Randy Moss into third place on the NFL career yards receiving list, trailing only Terrell Owens and Jerry Rice.

Fitzgerald was a ball boy for the Vikings and used to wash Moss’ cars for cash, and even borrowed his BMW to go to the high school prom.

INJURIES

The Titans lost starting left tackle Taylor Lewan in the second quarter with a lower back injury. Arizona outside linebacker Gabe Martin left in the first quarter with a hamstring injury.

UP NEXT

Titans: at San Francisco next Sunday.

Cardinals: at Washington next Sunday.

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