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Blake Bortles

Blake Bortles

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Blake Bortles wasn’t having a whole lot of success with his arm, so the Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback decided to try to make a few plays with his legs.

That’s not exactly the formula the Jaguars want to use, but it worked Sunday in their 10-3 AFC wild-card victory over the Buffalo Bills at EverBank Field. Bortles rushed for more yards (88) than he had passing (87) to become the first quarterback to win a playoff game with fewer than 100 passing yards on 20-plus attempts since Steve McNair in the 1999 AFC wild-card game against the Bills.

All that matters for the Jaguars, though, is Bortles found a way to win a playoff game, which hasn’t been done around here in a long time. The last time that happened was in the 2007 season. The last time it happened at home was after the 1999 season. Whether Bortles is still the franchise’s long-term answer at quarterback is a debate that can be put off for another week because the Jaguars still have at least one more game to play.

“Going into a game, there’s no secret recipe on how to win,” said Bortles, who completed 12 of 23 passes. “There’s no number that says you’ve got to score this many points to beat them. You’ve got to score one more than they score, regardless of it’s 50 or if it’s three, you’ve got to find a way to outscore them.”

That seemed unreachable with the way Bortles played in the first half. It appeared that the significant strides he made in 2017 were going to be wasted and the offseason was going to again be filled with questions such as, “What do the Jaguars do at quarterback?” Yet Bortles was able to rebound and proved to his teammates and coaches that he can be relied upon to win games.

It doesn’t matter that Bortles did a large part of it with his feet.

“He found a way,” cornerback Aaron Colvin said. “That’s what we talk about. It’s the main reason I played today [despite being ill]. You’ve got to find a way. Whatever it takes. We’ve got to get to these goals that we’ve talked about.

“All this work we’ve put in the offseason is for moments like these, and for him to find a way and do it with his legs, man, I have the utmost respect for him.”

Bortles was having by far his worst game of the season until he started scrambling and getting free. Per ESPN Stats & Information, Bortles gained 71 of his 88 rushing yards via scrambles. In the past 10 postseasons, only Colin Kaepernick has scrambled for more yards in a game (85 in the 2013 wild-card round).

“I kind of reference it to a pitcher,” Bortles said. “You go out and something’s not on. You don’t have a fastball or you don’t have a curveball, and you’ve got to find another pitch to be able to win and be successful and get guys out. That’s kind of the same thing playing quarterback.

“I’m kind of fortunate to be able to run around and be able to do that stuff and have kind of an Option B to kind of help this offense move the ball and put up points. Trying to do really whatever I can to help this team win [and] help this team score points.”

Bortles’ rushing performance doesn’t overshadow that the Jaguars won’t be around in the playoffs much longer if the offense doesn’t start producing. Outside of Bortles, the run game was terrible: Leonard Fournette managed 57 yards on 21 carries. Dede Westbrook was the only receiver to catch a pass against the Bills.

That certainly won’t be good enough when the Jaguars play at Pittsburgh next Sunday with a berth in the AFC Championship Game on the line.

“We never really got into a rhythm and weren’t able to get anything on third down,” Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone said. “I’d be a fool to sit here and say I’m not concerned, but I’m going to take a step back and go ahead and look at it again. Obviously, if you want to continue to keep playing, you’re going to have to do a better job.”

That includes Bortles’ arm and legs.

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Blake Bortles

Blake Bortles

Let’s go ahead and put the notion of the Jacksonville Jaguars bringing in a quarterback to replace Blake Bortles in the middle of the season. It’s not going to happen.

Jacksonville’s brain trust of Tom Coughlin, David Caldwell and Doug Marrone had a chance to bring someone in during free agency to challenge Bortles. It didn’t happen.

The NFL Draft came and went, where the team could have bypassed Leonard Fournette and taken Deshaun Watson or Patrick Mahomes. It didn’t happen.

The team announced just days after the NFL Draft it would pick up Bortles’ fifth-year option, which they can still void if they are not satisfied with the former first round pick’s play. They showed a commitment to him for at least this season.

Even when Bortles has looked like the Bortles of old, giving the Tennessee and New York Jets games as examples, the team did not bench him. And when he has looked good, in games against Houston, Baltimore, Pittsburgh and Indianapolis, the team has won their four games by blowout margins.

Trading for another signal caller would be more of a detriment than a help. The middle of the season is not when a team should shake up a potential playoff team. It is successful on few occasions. The San Francisco 49ers went to the Super Bowl with Colin Kaepernick because Alex Smith got injured during the season.

Bortles may not throw for 3,000 yards this season. He may not throw 25 touchdowns and he may throw for only 12 interceptions. Those are victories for this quarterback. His decision making is better because offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett hasn’t had to lean on him to carry this offense. The running game is to thank for that. The improved offensive line has kept him clean, with only 11 sacks in the first seven games. More importantly, the Jaguars have been able to start games at a faster pace and they are scoring early and in winning football games – often.

“I just think it’s a matter of when you go out there and get off to a good start it’s like two-minute [drill],” coach Doug Marrone said. “You make that first completion and you get on a roll. If you miss the first one then it’s very difficult when you study all the two-minute stuff. I think it’s a matter of that. Knowing that, listen if something doesn’t work out and it doesn’t go well and you go back to the sideline, correct it, get refocused and get back on the field and let’s go.”

Bortles’ fast start has also given him confidence to make plays in and out of the pocket. While the passes he throws looks like a wounded duck at times, he has found his targets on short and intermediate passing routes. This might be as much to do with the loss Allen Robinson as anything else. With rookie Dede Westbrook coming of injured reserve, the team may have another target to rev the engine up in the second half of the season.

Marrone has been able to preach progress over regression from past mistakes. The lesson has worked – so far. This is a more fluid offense, which relies on the run first, the pass season.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Jaguars have scored more points (51) than any other team, are averaging the most yards (115.6) and rushing yards (49.1), and have not committed a turnover in the first quarter. They’ve scored touchdowns on their opening drive in four games and kicked field goals in two others.

With it, the Jaguars are running over teams with the run game and stiff-arming them on the defensive side of the ball.

For now, Bortles is the best option for this team moving forward until the end of 2017.

After this season, the Jaguars will decide if they will bring BB5 back for his fifth season. The 19-million price tag is highly unlikely, but a new deal with a reduced rate could be on the table. It’s also possible – almost a guarantee – Jacksonville brings in a veteran signal caller (Alex Smith, Sam Bradford, Teddy Bridgewater, Kirk Cousins) to lead this team in 2018 or they draft a quarterback to forge the future.

Now that they team has brought in Marcell Dareus to help defending the run, quarterback is the team’s weakest position. It’s hard to say that with a 4-3 team and a possible playoff berth. Bortles isn’t as bad as many would think, he’s just not the elite passer they want. Jacksonville needs him to be the same player he has been this season to get to the playoffs. Any improvement would be gravy. Any regression would be disaster.