Bengals dare Bortles and he wins

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Marshall Koehn, with injured Randy Bullock, made his NFL debut Sunday and came through with a touch back and extra point.

JACKSONVILLE - If you told the Bengals last week that Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles would throw 38 passes against them while holding Jacksonville's top-ranked rushing attack to 3.7 yards per carry, they would have taken it.

 But not if they knew it had been teamed with 40 rushes.

That's how the Jags dominated the Bengals Sunday in a coldly bloodless efficient 23-7 victory that stripped bare Cincinnati's deficiencies in the AFC race with a 40:14 time of possession that allowed Jacksonville to run nearly twice as many plays (78-37). The high point came on the first drive when former Jaguars defensive lineman Chris Smith forced a fumble on a T.J. Yeldon run for the Bengals' first fumble recovery since Oct. 9, 2016, breaking their NFL record of 18 straight games without one when safety Shawn Williams grabbed it at the Bengals 25.

Smith blew up Yeldon for a five-yard loss like he knew it was coming. It turns out he did.

"I'd seen that play a few times when I was here," Smith said.

The numbers that were supposed to happen Sunday got turned upside down when Bortles, whose offense was mired at No. 21 in the NFL converting third downs, ripped off 67 percent of them Sunday with stunning ease, including nine of 10 right out of the gate against a Bengals defense that came in 11th in the league getting teams off the field on third down. For the second time in three games the vaunted Bengals' pass rush didn't get a sack.

The Bengals got their wish. They made Bortles beat them.

"If it's third-and-three and under most of the time you're going to get those," said left end Carlos Dunlap. "If it's third-and-long we win that match up, but they did a good job of keeping a handle on it."

Ten of the 18 third downs Bortles faced were third-and-four and less and he converted seven of them by basically sending his receivers through the middle of a gaping defense. Profootballfocus.com pegged the Bengals with nine missed tackles, three each by normally reliable linebacker Vontaze Burfict and safety George Iloka.

Bortles had some help. One third down conversion clicked even though Chris Smith dropped into coverage and tipped a pass through the middle. The Jags' first field goal was made possible when Shawn Williams dropped a tipped pass at the goal line.

"Over routes," said cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick. "They were running a lot of pick routes and they got into the middle of the field."

PFF charted Bortles targeting the linebackers in the Bengals pass defense, Burfict and Nick Vigil, ten times for eight completions and 85 yards.

"They didn't do anything spectacular," said left end Carlos Dunlap. "They managed the game, they controlled the game. They made the plays when they needed to make the plays. Except for that punt return, that was the best thing they had going."

The Bengals defense gave up one touchdown and that was on a 96-yard drive in which of the 15 plays a total of four were third-and-four or loss. The last two were in the red zone, including the touchdown, in which Bortles hit wide receiver Marquis Lee just behind the sticks and underneath. The TD came on a three-yard flip where cornerback Adam Jones lined up over Lee and was dragged across the middle into the traffic of the slot receiver.

"I think we didn't execute as good as we could have," Jones said. "I'm not taking no shots at nobody but we could do a lot of stuff to get better, go from sideline to sideline, that's all I could say."

On Sunday, Bortles went from caretaker quarterback to taking care of the Bengals on 24 of 38 for 259 yards for a 91.9 passer rating.

"It wasn't necessarily pass heavy this week," Bortles said. "Two weeks ago against Indy, we had run the ball a lot in big personnel packages so we wanted to show that we could throw out of it too so it was an emphasis against Indy a couple weeks ago. But this week we were back to being balanced and doing what we thought we did well. It just so happened that more pass plays or deeper pass plays were called this week and we were able to convert on them."

The Bengals gave up four passes of at least 28 yards and they were all pretty wide open.

"Today we just didn't execute.  That was very uncharacteristic of us as a defense," Iloka said. " Going  forward, we just have to know the layout of this situation.  We have to play our best ball on defense to give ourselves a chance.  We have the guys to do it, and we have to take ownership and say 'let's go.' We should go out there every week and decide we have to win this game.  That wasn't us out there."

 Or, as Jones said, "We hurt ourselves with penalties, tipped balls, this here, this that. Those guys came out and played with passion."

 

Cincinnati Bengals take on the Jacksonville Jaguars in week 9 of the regular season.

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