(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.
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