Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles has been asked to do many things over the past year. He was told if he did not protect the football, he would not be part of the 2017 team. He was told if he could not play better, he would lose his job to then-backup Chad Henne. He was told if he did not show marked improvement in all facets of the passing game, he could be playing elsewhere in 2018.
Blake Bortles did everything asked of him, and more. While he was not the sole reason the Jaguars were 10-6 last season and AFC South champs, he did play a part. And now, a few months removed from the AFC Title Game, one where he and his team lost, Blake Bortles is being asked to do something he has never done before – get the Jacksonville Jaguars back to the playoffs.
The Jaguars announced this offseason they had reached a contract extension with their starter, one that would keep Blake Bortles on the roster the next three seasons for $54 million. It’s considered a steal in today’s NFL, where starters are paid like prize fighters based on potential and probability. For Blake Bortles, the opportunity to take the Jaguars to the Promised Land once again is the next step in his maturation process.
“The bar has been raised; the expectations are different,” Bortles said. “… To be able to go through the season we went through last year, the camp that we went through and kind of see everything that happened, I think guys are coming back this year with a totally different attitude and kind of a hunger to reach that final game and go win it.”
That hunger may lead this team to a place it has never been – not even in the Tom Coughlin lead era of this franchise.
The place is called Super Bowl XLIII. Bortles and the Jaguars came within five minutes of the improbable dream, the win over the New England Patriots and a date with the Philadelphia Eagles. The Eagles face the Jaguars Oct. 28 at Wembley Stadium as part of the NFL’s International Series.
The improvement on the field, especially in the playoffs, where he played arguably his best football, was the main reason the Jaguars decided Blake Bortles was their man. Not Kirk Cousins. Not Case Keenam. Not Teddy Bridgewater. The third pick in the 2014 NFL Draft had become the “ride or die” choice of the franchise. It was the right move under the right circumstances.
“He’s improving and that’s the whole key,” Tom Coughlin, executive vice president of football operations, said. “I mean, some of his best games were in the playoffs. You can’t ask for a better circumstance. In other words, you set it up, you want to know how a guy performs in big games. Two of his best quarterback ratings were in those games.”
As the Blake Bortles led Jaguars open offseason workouts and look to the NFL Draft and training camp, Bortles is the man under the microscope once again. This time, it’s to see if he can improve on success. In years past, it was to see if he could improve on failure and mediocrity.
Bortles figures to have the same role in the Jaguars’ offense he did last season. This time, that kind of success could mean another trip to the playoffs. It could also mean he does something not even Mark Brunell or David Garrard did behind center. Blake Bortles could be playing in a Super Bowl, which should have fans believing he is the right choice for this franchise, regardless of what was not accomplished in the past.