(Our Chris Fischer worked the sideline of Jags-Titans Saturday for CBS-TV)
“Where has this guy been all season?” That had to be the question that circulated around Everbank Field on Saturday. Blake Bortles played like a guy who knew his job as the Jaguars starting quarterback was in jeopardy.
In potentially the best performance of his career, Bortles threw 11 consecutive completions, and for the first time won a game when passing for over 300-yards. And probably the biggest part of his stat line, was a big round zero in the interception column, a category he’s fattened up this season.
Bortles begrudgingly admitted his play was one of the major reasons for Gus Bradley’s ouster.
“He’s the guy who brought me here,” said Bortles.
So in addition to Bortles job insecurity, was the burden of failing Bradley which led to the turnaround performance.
Bortles knows who ever is to be the next head coach, is going to take a good hard look at the quarterback position. The third year veteran said going in to the showdown with the Titans, he needed to put tape out there that makes it a tough decision for whomever takes over.
While the victory over playoff vying Tennessee was viewed as an upset, that shocking display doesn’t compare to how Jaguars fans have felt about the former number three overall draft pick and the offense this year.
As Bradley mentioned in his exiting press conference, “We just expected the offense to build on last year and naturally take the next step.”
But Bortles regression from setting a franchise record in passing yards and touchdowns a season ago has been the impetus of the Jaguars struggles.
Yet, Interim Head Coach Doug Marrone and General Manager Dave Caldwell last week gave Bortles a shot in the arm he needed when they said “We have all the confidence in the world in Blake.”
The signal caller seemed confident from the on-set of the game, with scoring drives on the opening two series.
“It was good to get in to a rhythm early,” said Bortles. “It was good to get rolling early and we found a groove.”
OC Nathaniel Hackett’s play calling paved the way for first half success. Screen passes allowed Bortles to settle in, and for the offense to push the ball down the field. In fact, Titans Head Coach Mike Mularkey told me at halftime the “We have to shut down the screen pass, it’s allowing them to take over time of possession.”
Maybe it was the chance to build that rhythm early, and the confidence which subsequently comes with it that allowed Bortles to look like a top ten quarterback. It may have taken 16 weeks and a head coaching change to tap in to that potential again, but Bortles proved that it’s there.
Sure it’s just one performance in a season chalk full of clunker, yet it might be what Bortles needs to build on heading in to the off-season.
The Jaguars will likely bring in a veteran to push the UCF product during training camp for the starting job. But if Marrone, Hackett and Bortles can put together another winning performance on Sunday in Indianapolis, it could end a significant streak of three different offensive coordinators in three years for Bortles. A situation that hasn’t helped in his development.
FUN BORTLES FACT:
Bortles 20-yard fourth quarter touchdown reception wasn’t only the first of his career, but his first ever from what he could recall during our postgame interview.
Jaguars DE Yannick Ngakoue hinting he’s gone again?
One of the key free-agent questions for the Jaguars continues to be whether or not they’re going to allow their best pass rusher, Yannick Ngakoue, to test the free-agent market coming up? And, once again, the player may be giving a clue that he’s going to do just that.
Ngakoue tweeted Wednesday morning the following phrase, which seems to indicate, yet again, that he will be playing somewhere else in 2020:
— Yannick Ngakoue (@YannickNgakoue) February 26, 2020
This goes along with something that we wrote earlier in January. That’s when just a couple of days after the season Ngakoue posted essentially a goodbye message to Jaguar fans. This came on the heels of him having held out for a new contract for the first few days of training camp last August, but not receiving a new deal during the season, etc.
Ngakoue, whose 37.5 career sacks are the most by a Jaguars player after 63 career games, is sure to be a sought-after player from many different teams. GM Dave Caldwell said at the end of the season when asked about re-sgning his star pass rusher, “He is a tremendous player and even a better person. How he handled his business this year was tremendous. But, I would say that’s priority No. 1, to make sure he comes back to Jacksonville. Hopefully, we can get that done. ″
It’s also worth noting that at Tuesday’s NFL Scouting Combine at media availability in Indianapolis, coach Doug Marrone repeated that he wants Ngakoue to remain in Jaguars teal and white:
Doug Marrone: ‘’No doubt where I stand or the coaches.”
—They want Yannick Ngakoue back. pic.twitter.com/vOorH4hH95
— John Reid (@JohnReid64) February 26, 2020
However, it remains to be seen if Marrone and Caldwell are willing to “pony up” huge money for him or even potentially, put the franchise tag on him before free agency begins next month?
Ngakoue figures to want a contract close to what the top ends are getting paid right now. Demarcus Lawrence and Frank Clark both signed five-year, over $100 million deals in 2019 and received guaranteed money that exceeded $62 million. That is massive for Jacksonville.
If the Jags opt for the “franchise tag,” then the talented end will be making around $19 million dollars, which is the current average of the top five players at his position. The Jaguars could also put the tag on him and then work on a longer term, salary cap friendly, deal that would replace the tag later in the off season.
Jaguars confirm they are declining option on DT Dareus
At Tuesday’s media session at the NFL Scouting Combine, Jaguars GM Dave Caldwell made official what had been rumored for the last couple of days regarding defensive tackle Marcell Dareus: he will not be brought back for a fourth season in Jacksonville.
Caldwell confirmed the Jaguars are not picking up DT Marcell Dareus' option.
— John Reid (@JohnReid64) February 25, 2020
Dareus only played briefly in 2019, as he suffered a core muscle injury that sidelined him after only six games and he was placed on injured reserve. The former number one pick of the Buffalo Bills had played for coach Doug Marrone for a couple of seasons in Western New York.
Marrone and Caldwell traded for Dareus during the 2017 season and he helped them with their rise to the AFC South title and two playoff wins. This included Darius registering two sacks and four other tackles-for-loss in the Jaguars three playoff games that year.
Dareus made the Pro Bowl twice in Buffalo in 2013-14.
However, he has not lived up to his hefty contract that was reworked Jacksonville last February. Last season, Dareus made over $8 million dollars and the team would have been on the hook for $20 million this year had they picked up the option. That obviously wasn’t going to happen.
Dareus also has had legal troubles off the field, including a civil suit against him in Tampa for alleged sexual misconduct. As we wrote previously, a woman alleged that Dareus had sexually assaulted her in January of 2018 at a North Tampa Florida home, while Dareus was in town for the Alabama-Clemson College Football Playoff Championship Game.
However, that suit filed in Hillsborough County court was “dismissed with prejudice” last April, which means it cannot be re-filed.
Dareus, if healthy after the core muscle injury rehab, may have some value as a defensive tackle on the free agent market.
As for the Jaguars, they have former #1 pick defensive tackle Taven Bryan to play more in the middle and are trying to decide if free agent-to-be, DE Yannick Ngakoue, can be afforded for their 2020 salary cap?