JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) – With a rookie quarterback and arguably the NFL’s best defense, the Denver Broncos were content to play conservatively at Jacksonville.
It was the perfect formula against the self-destructing Jaguars.
Bradley Roby returned an interception 51 yards for a touchdown, and the defending Super Bowl champions beat the mistake-prone Jaguars 20-10 on Sunday and gained ground in the AFC playoff picture.
Roby picked off Blake Bortles’ wobbler across the middle in the third quarter – star linebacker Von Miller hit Bortles as he released the ball – and went untouched the other way. It was one of three turnovers for Denver’s defense.
“They were exceptional,” Broncos coach Gary Kubiak said.
It was the 11th pick-6 of Bortles’ three-year career and his third in the last four games. Houston and Detroit also returned interceptions for touchdowns in games the Jaguars lost by less than seven points.
“It’s the biggest nightmare possible,” said Bortles, whose 37.9 quarterback rating was the worst of his career. “But what are you going to do about it? You can’t sit there in a corner and pout. You can’t blame people. You can’t feel sorry for yourself because I think all that’s going to do is affect the way I play. … All you can do is put your head down and continue to play as hard as you can and prepare each week.”
Bortles’ latest pick-6 resulted in a seventh consecutive loss for Jacksonville (2-10) and secured another miserable milestone for the small-market franchise. The Jaguars became the fifth team in NFL history to post double-digit losses in six consecutive seasons, joining Tampa Bay (1983-94), Detroit (2001-06), Oakland (2003-09) and Cleveland (2008-13).
Jacksonville had a chance to tie in the final minutes, but Bortles fumbled trying to make a play in the pocket.
The Broncos (8-4) rebounded from an overtime loss against Kansas City, and with Miami’s loss at Baltimore, moved into position to get one of the conference’s wild-card spots.
They did it without quarterback Trevor Siemian, who missed the game with a sprained left foot. Rookie Paxton Lynch made his second career start and first on the road. Denver didn’t ask him to do too much. He didn’t need to, either.
The Broncos scored all 20 points with help from Jacksonville, including two turnovers and two 15-yard penalties.
Denver was 1 for 13 on third downs and finished with just 206 yards, the fewest allowed in Jaguars coach Gus Bradley’s four-year tenure. It was the franchise’s fewest since giving up 146 yards in a victory against Baltimore in 2011.
“We’re playing good defense right now,” said Jaguars defensive tackle Malik Jackson, who played his first game against his former team. “It just sucks to be 2-10 now because we’re better than that.”
The Broncos were gouged on the ground for 154 yards, but the defense made several game-changing plays.
PHOTO GALLERY: Broncos 20, Jaguars 10
Roby’s interception was the dagger. It was huge for the third-year pro who gave up a late touchdown to New Orleans two weeks ago and surrendered an 11-yard catch on fourth-and-10 last week against the Chiefs.
“There was no way we were going to lose this game late like we did last week,” Roby said.
SPECIAL TEAMS WOES
The Jaguars continued their streak of special teams gaffes. Reserve tight end Alex Ellis was flagged for unnecessary roughness on a punt return in the final minute of the half. His 15-yarder set up Brandon McManus’ 32-yard field goal and put the Broncos ahead 10-3. It also gave Jacksonville a major meltdown on special teams for the seventh consecutive week. The streak includes five muffed punts – including three turnovers – a punt return for a touchdown and two long punt returns that set up scores.
Chris Harris Jr.’s interception was his second of the year, giving him five consecutive seasons with multiple picks. He’s the fifth cornerback in the NFL to accomplish the feat, joining teammate Aqib Talib, Arizona’s Patrick Peterson, New York Giants’ Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Seattle’s Richard Sherman.
Jaguars receiver Allen Robinson continues to help his opponents. Robinson dropped his sixth pass of the season and his third that resulted in an interception.
Robinson bobbled a deep pass from Bortles down the left sideline, and it landed Harris Jr.’s hands for Bortles’ 14th interception of the season. Robinson, a Pro Bowler last season, also bobbled passes that ended up as picks against Chicago and Oakland earlier this season.
Broncos: Play at Tennessee on Sunday.
Jaguars: Host Minnesota on Sunday.