The Jaguars had trouble running the ball again on Sunday. They did at least until they started handing it off to Corey Grant in the fourth quarter, which time the outcome had already been decided.
That’s because they had Blake Bortles at quarterback.
Few want to give Bortles credit for the good job he’s done efficiently managing an offense that has been without its best wideout all season and was once again without its best tailback on Sunday, but it’s time to start giving credit where credit is due.
Put quite simply, the Jaguars wouldn’t be headed to the playoffs were it not for Bortles.
No, his season stats are not eye-popping. Bortles ranks in the middle of the pack in just about every meaningful one there is. What is eye-popping is how well Bortles has played when the Jaguars have absolutely needed him to step up and play big.
Take Sunday, for example. With no Leonard Fournette and despite losing wideout Marqise Lee in the first quarter, Bortles put together one of the best games of his career, completing 21 of 29 passes for 326 yards and three touchdowns.
It was his third 300-plus-yard passing game of the season. Two of those have come in games in which he didn’t have Fournette to hand the ball off to. The other came in one of the two games in which the Jaguars have failed to run for 100 yards.
We point that out because the Jaguars are a running team. That’s how they’re built, but when the running game gets shut down they need their quarterback to pick up the slack and Bortles is starting to prove rather consistently that he can do that.
Bortles compiled a career-best passer rating of 148.3 on Sunday. It was the third straight week in which he’s compiled a passer rating of 100 or better. That’s the sign of a quarterback who’s locked in, which is Bortles clearly is.
“He’s really become confident in his footwork and his rhythm,’’ Marrone said. “I mean, there were some plays today that they really covered well, where the (they took away) the first read and the second read and all of a sudden, he gets the ball out or he moves and he hits (Keelan) Cole.
“And then there are some plays that kind of get overlooked because he’s checking it down, but on those plays he’s going from this guy to this guy and to this guy. And you have to give a lot of credit to the guys up front because you have to protect him, but it’s a lot of credit to him. He’s playing well.’’
That he is.
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?