JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Really, this was not about revenge for the Jaguars, because in no way could a Week 2 victory in dryer-vent conditions here negate a season-ending defeat absorbed amid the New England winter, nor could it erase eight months of frustration, nor retroactively award them a conference title, and the Super Bowl appearance they still covet.
That point was reinforced, with an icy glare, in Jacksonville’s locker room late Sunday, after the Jaguars throttled the team that had overcome a fourth-quarter deficit to topple them in the A.F.C. championship game last winter. Stopping a reporter midquestion, center Brandon Linder said, “We don’t care about last year.”
And yet they do care about last year, when, after many seasons of misery, Jacksonville ascended to the A.F.C. elite. The Jaguars are still so new to those ranks that the 31-20 thrashing they administered to New England on Sunday served more as an affirmation of their capabilities, a reminder that they are pursuing not just relevancy but conference supremacy with all of their might.
“We’re here and we’re not letting up,” cornerback A. J. Bouye said. “It’s that simple.”
The basic facts, then: Blake Bortles outdueled Tom Brady, throwing for 377 yards and four touchdowns, and the Jaguars halted a New England surge by forcing a game-turning fumble just as more than a decade of precedent, of Brady’s brilliance and New England’s poise, seemed to be conspiring against them.
That ominous feeling crept up when, with Jacksonville leading by 24-13 early in the fourth quarter, a Bortles pass caromed off the hands of Austin Seferian-Jenkins and into the arms of Kyle Van Noy, giving New England the ball deep in Jaguars territory.
“When they start getting that momentum,” Jacksonville safety Tashaun Gipson said, “it’s a scary feeling because you know who they have at the helm.”
Brady had indeed directed consecutive touchdown drives to stun Jacksonville in the playoffs. And he had just helped the Patriots score 10 points in 2 minutes 32 seconds.
“Obviously, as a defense,” Gipson said, “you get tight a little bit.”
On third-and-9 from the Jaguars’ 24, Dante Fowler bounded off the edge to the right of Brady. Excellent coverage downfield kept Brady in the pocket, and he was just about to throw the ball away when Fowler closed in, swatting the ball loose and falling on it. That the Jaguars failed to convert that turnover into points mattered less than preventing New England from marching into the end zone and destroying their souls once again.
And so came a sigh of relief at the end of a week in which the Jaguars had teetered between suppressing the memory of the A.F.C. title game loss and acknowledging its effect. New season, different teams, they said. At practice, the speaker blared the Dropkick Murphys’ “I’m Shipping Up to Boston.”
“People always want to take you back,” Coach Doug Marrone said this week, “but you can’t.”
Not that anyone here was dwelling on that loss. Not the woman who Thursday night walked into TacoLu, a Jacksonville Beach restaurant, wearing a black shirt that, in teal lettering, read, “Myles Jack Wasn’t Down.” Not the two women making sandwiches at a Publix on Sunday morning. One, noticing the flood of Jaguars fans, said, “Game day.” Her colleague corrected her. “No,” she said. “Revenge day.”
So it was decreed — though, again, revenge might not be the most precise word here. Retaliation, perhaps, and Jacksonville’s riposte came in staccato bursts, one play after another in the first half.
A short scoring fade to Donte Moncrief over cornerback Stephon Gilmore — whose leaping fourth-down deflection in January denied the Jaguars’ comeback. An absurd one-handed sideline catch by Keelan Cole, who grabbed the ball as if it were an object on a high shelf, that set up his touchdown three plays later. A third-and-1 stuffing by Abry Jones that forced a New England punt. By the time Bortles connected with Seferian-Jenkins on a 4-yard touchdown nine seconds before halftime, the Jaguars led, 21-3.
With a quarter and a half remaining, a 21-point lead was hardly safe. The Patriots once vanquished a 25-point third-quarter deficit in the Super Bowl (had you heard?). And as Brady marched New England to one score, and then another, it was Jacksonville’s charge not to wilt.
The Jaguars’ secondary, which held Rob Gronkowski to two catches for 15 yards, did its part. Fowler did his, stripping Brady, and so, too, did Bortles, maligned for his inconsistency, who shined in the absence of the star running back Leonard Fournette, out with a hamstring injury. Bortles’s final touchdown pass, a 61-yard catch-and-run by Dede Westbrook with 7:35 left, extended Jacksonville’s lead to 31-13.
“I trust Blake, Blake trusts Blake, coaches trust Blake, Jaguars trust Blake,” Cole said. “That’s all we need to know in order for Blake to be that man. It doesn’t matter what anyone else says. Blake is here. We are winning and he’s doing his thing.”
Indeed. The Jaguars, 2-0 for the first time since 2006, throttled their nemesis, whom they had never defeated in the regular season. In doing so, they earned not just a satisfying win but t he head-to head tiebreaker edge, which could matter in playoff seeding and, potentially, decide home-field advantage.
A win back here, in the playoffs, in four months? Now that would be revenge. Jacksonville can only hope.