The meeting of the minds about Blake Bortles’ future in Jacksonville is approaching faster by the minute. And whenever Tom Coughlin, Doug Marrone and Dave Caldwell resign themselves to cut that quarterback cord, these last two weeks sum up why they’ll have to move on.
Bortles’ maddening inaccuracy and inability to sustain success — the twin-killer traits that have dogged his entire career – is again keeping the Jaguars from maximizing their assets.
One week after Bortles had arguably the best game of his career (or at least second-best) in a rout of the Baltimore Ravens, he followed with a clunker in Sunday’s 23-20 overtime loss to the New York Jets that should push the Jaguars’ brass closer to an expiration date on his time as a starter.
In Year 4, with the same offensive coordinator in Nathaniel Hackett that Bortles had for the last half of 2016, he has jumped right back on the quarterback roller coaster.
Here are Blake’s QB ratings/performance assessment from the Jaguars’ first four games – 86.4 (decent) vs. Houston, 63.7 (sub-par) vs. Tennessee, 128.2 (fantastic) vs. Baltimore, 52.1 (awful) vs. Jets. You simply can’t win in today’s NFL, even in a division as suspect as the AFC South, with a Jekyll-and-Hyde guy under center. It’s a slow, agonizing march to irrelevance.
Bortles’ sample size is large enough now, with his 50th NFL start coming Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers, where the evidence is probably not going to change much. He’s a younger, more athletic version of Chad Henne, whose 18-35 record as a starter, 59.3 completion percentage and 75.5 career QB rating is right in the Bortles ballpark.
But GM Caldwell didn’t take Bortles with the No. 3 overall pick in 2014 to be a slight upgrade from Henne. He drafted him to eventually win games (Bortles is 13-36) on a consistent basis and take the Jaguars to multiple playoff berths, just as Mark Brunell did as Coughlin’s first long-term starter during his Jacksonville coaching days (1995-2002).
Granted, the Jaguars’ personnel was pretty suspect in his first two seasons, but the red flag with Bortles is little, if anything, about his game has made real improvement. Sorry, not throwing a pick-6 since Week 13 against Denver last year doesn’t qualify him as an ascending quarterback.
Take the Jets game, for instance. Bortles plays well early on, then the offense accumulates only 144 yards and three points in the last 50 minutes. The Jaguars had 175 yards rushing, won the turnover battle (2-1) and got a defensive touchdown, all ingredients for victory. Yet they still lost to a below-average NFL opponent, largely because the quarterback wasn’t competent enough to provide an edge in the game’s big moments.
Now we can talk ad nauseum about how Marrone and offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett should have put the ball in the hands of franchise back Leonard Fournette, especially when it was first-and-goal at the 6 in the last two minutes of regulation and the Jaguars trailing 20-17. That’s easy hindsight.
The bigger takeaway is you gave a quarterback — the one given one last shot to prove he can be a long-term solution – three chances to find the end zone with the game on the line and he failed miserably.
Now maybe Fournette hits paydirt with three rushing attempts from six yards out, or maybe the Jets stuff him like they did on a third-and-1 attempt earlier. We’ll never know. The point is Bortles got three calls and the answer each time was wrong number.
So how much longer will the Jaguars put up with a quarterback that throws too many wobbly passes, almost has to play with a lead to be effective, and has lost 12 of his last 14 games decided by one score? They surely give him the rest of October, and depending on how things play out, maybe until the Jaguars are out of playoff contention.
Still, barring a remarkable turnaround, it’s almost impossible to envision a scenario where Bortles is a Jaguar in 2018. He’s tested the organization’s patience way too much.
Of the eight NFL starting quarterbacks drafted after Bortles, the only one not better than him right now is Cleveland Browns rookie DeShone Kizer, who has all of four starts. All the others, from Derek Carr (2014) to Jameis Winston (2015) and Marcus Mariota (2015), have significantly improved and show greater promise.
There are even several backup QBs, like Jimmy Garoppolo (New England) and A.J. McCarron (Cincinnati), or even rookies Patrick Mahomes (Kansas City) and Bartram Trail High product Nathan Peterman (Buffalo), that you’d probably trust more to be the Jaguars’ starter going forward.
The opportunity is there for the Jaguars to stay in the AFC South race, but winning it likely means Bortles has to out-perform the Houston Texans’ rookie sensation DeShaun Watson, Mariota (Tennessee) and Andrew Luck (Indianapolis) once his shoulder is healthy enough to return.
Can Bortles pull that off with his flawed mechanics and his best receiving weapon, Allen Robinson, out the rest of the year? The Jaguars’ brass has likely seen enough to already know that answer.
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