T.J. Yates

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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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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