JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) – Blake Bortles put together one decent drive all day that ended with a one-yard touchdown pass to Oil City High School graduate Ben Koyack, and the defensive-minded Jacksonville Jaguars eked out an ugly and sometimes unwatchable 10-3 victory against the Buffalo Bills in an AFC wild-card game Sunday.
In the postseason for the first time since January 2008, the third-seeded Jaguars (11-6) advanced to play at No. 2 seed Pittsburgh next week.
The sixth-seeded Bills (9-8) will head home after ending the longest, current playoff drought in North American professional sports.
This was far from a passing clinic. It was more like a painful exercise in overcoming poor passing.
Bortles was off most of the day, misfiring short and long, but made up for it with 88 yards rushing. He scrambled for a long first down run after fumbling the ball late, prompting a Bills assistant to slam a clipboard and eliciting a huge grin from Bortles.
“We weren’t sharp, we made some bad plays and did some stupid stuff, but we found a way to win and that’s all that matters,” Bortles said.
He completed 12 of 23 passes for 87 yards, with a touchdown. His TD pass came late in the third quarter was his best throw of the game. On the receiving end was backup tight end Ben Koyack, who finished the regular season with just 38 yards on five receptions. The touchdown was his first of the season and the second of his two-year career.
It also was a gutsy call on fourth-and-goal from the 1.
Bortles did the rest on the ground, scrambling for first downs and helping Jacksonville win its first playoff game at home since the 1997 season.
“You know, when we got beat last week at Tennessee, I didn’t run at all, so I thought we got beat without kind of shooting all of our shots, so I said it made it difficult, so let’s find some ways to move the ball and do some different stuff,” Bortles said.
Taylor slammed his helmet hard against the ground after getting thrown down by Dante Fowler Jr. He had to be helped off the field and forced backup Nathan Peterman into the game with 1:27 remaining. All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey tipped and then intercepted Peterman’s third pass, and the Jaguars ran out the clock.
“We prepare hard and we study a lot of tape, we practice hard,” Jaguars defensive lineman Calais Campbell said.
“We’re battle-tested, so we know that if we just keep playing ball, good things will happen.”
The Bills finished with 263 yards, with 119 of those coming from hobbled running back LeSean McCoy (ankle).
The Jags had a measly 230 yards. Leonard Fournette ran 21 times for 57 yards.
Bortles is the second starting quarterback in the past 25 seasons to win a playoff game with more rushing yards than passing yards (88 rushing, 87 passing). The other was Atlanta’s Michael Vick in the 2004 divisional round against the Rams (119 rushing, 82 passing).
The Jaguars will play at second-seeded Pittsburgh next Sunday, a rematch from Week 5. Ben Roethlisberger threw five interceptions, and Jacksonville won 30-9. The Steelers have won 10 of 11 since, the lone loss coming against New England.
SAINTS 31, PANTHERS 26
NEW ORLEANS – Drew Brees passed for 376 yards and two touchdowns, and the New Orleans Saints held off Carolina’s late comeback bid to seal a 31-26 victory in their NFC wild-card game.
The Panthers had a first down on the Saints 26-yard line with 58 seconds left, but heavy pressure by All-Pro defensive end Cameron Jordan a couple plays later induced an intentional grounding penalty on Carolina quarterback Cam Newton, making it third-and-25 on the Saints 34 and a required 10-second runoff left 22 seconds on the clock.
After an incompletion in the end zone on third down, Vonn Bell sacked Newton on a safety blitz, ensuring the Saints (12-5) swept all three meetings with Carolina (11-6) this season, in addition to winning their first playoff game in four seasons.
Brees’ touchdowns went for 80-yards to Ted Ginn and 9 yards to tight end Josh Hill. Fullback Zach line and running back Alvin Kamara each ran for short touchdowns, the latter set up by Michael Thomas 46-yard reception.
Thomas caught eight passes for 131 yards on a day when the Saints needed the passing game to compensate for a ground game that struggled to get going.
TITANS 22, CHIEFS 21
It all added up to a heart-stopping 22-21 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs on Saturday, the first postseason win for the Titans in 14 years and one that will provide some relief – for the week, at least – for embattled coach Mike Mularkey and his underdog squad.
Mariota had 205 yards passing and two touchdowns, including the go-ahead 22-yard strike to Eric Decker with six minutes left. The Titans will find out Sunday whether they’re headed to New England or Pittsburgh next.
Derrick Henry added a career-high 156 yards rushing and another score for Tennessee (10-7), while a defense fileted by Alex Smith and the Chiefs (10-7) in the first half pitched a shutout in the second half – dooming the Kansas City franchise to another humiliating postseason defeat.
Smith threw for 264 yards and two touchdowns for the Chiefs, who haven’t won a home playoff game since January 1994.
FALCONS 26, RAMS 13
LOS ANGELES – Matt Ryan passed for 218 yards and hit Julio Jones for an 8-yard touchdown with 5:48 to play, and the defending NFC champion Atlanta Falcons advanced from the wild-card round with a methodical victory over the Los Angeles Rams.
Devonta Freeman rushed for an early score and Matt Bryant kicked four field goals for the Falcons (11-6), who spoiled the Rams’ first playoff game in 13 years while showing off the postseason poise they earned from last season’s journey to the Super Bowl.
The Falcons’ defense did more than enough to slow down the NFL’s highest-scoring offense, harassing Jared Goff into a 24-for-45 performance in his playoff debut. Robert Woods caught nine passes for 142 yards for the NFC West champion Rams (11-6), but rookie Cooper Kupp scored the Rams’ only touchdown late in the first half. Atlanta held MVP candidate Todd Gurley to 101 yards rushing – just 43 in the first three quarters – and four receptions for a mere 10 yards.