It’s pretty simple in the NFL: if you’re quarterback isn’t playing well, you’re not going to win. For most of 2016 Blake *Bortles hasn’t played well and the Jaguars are 2-7. But despite his slump and the Jaguars record, Gus Bradley was plain when he was asked if Bortles should sit for a while and watch.
“No,” he said in his post-game press conference. “I think we’re 59 percent on third down. He made some plays on the run, things we’re going to keep going after, keep taking these shots.”
While he’s right about the statistics, he’s not seeing the whole picture. Or rather he’s not seeing the small picture and plays that can change the landscape of the game with one throw. Bortles has missed wide-open guys for touchdowns at least four times in the last two weeks but Bradley is sticking by him. Blake’s footwork is bad, his mechanics are bad and it appears his confidence in throwing the ball where he wants it is also waning. But Bortles disputed that after the game.
“No, I feel good about it,” he said when asked about his ability to throw the ball downfield. “I mean we had some big P.I.’s (pass interference calls), gave a couple of guys a chance to make plays. I obviously missed (Allen) Hurns on the touchdown down the middle. It’s a work in progress.”
Good answer for your rookie year and even last season. But in your third year in the league, throwing the routine pass should be just that, routine. Those are game-changing plays on the scoreboard, physically and mentally. And when they’re not there, the whole team can feel it. Bradley said the *Bortles in practice is a little different than the *Bortles in games. Blake apparently makes those throws during the week. It’s on Sunday where he’s struggling. That’s a mechanics and mentality problem. It’s like making the 4-footer on the practice green but missing it to win the tournament.
“I believe he had a good week last week in practice,” Gus explained, ever the optimist. “I think there’s going to be plays every week. Missing some deep balls like that, it can happen. That doesn’t mean that we’re going to shy away from it. We have to come up and make those connections when the time calls for it.”
Even Bradley knows the team is underperforming based on the upgrades they made in the off-season. The draft picks and free agents they added to the defense have made it competitive but without solid quarterback play, none of it matters.
“I think we’re a talented team, but talent alone isn’t enough,” the head coach said, echoing what everybody is thinking. “I think that it’s talent and work ethic and the guys working together to accomplish this and playing smart and not having foolish penalties so a combination of things.”
All of those comments are just what you’d expect from Bradley, and pretty much what he has to say. But at 2-7, he sounds a bit Pollyanna-ish when he talks about the future.
“I think we all feel like we’re closer where we can get on a run and it’s not happening. To get on a run, you got to win one game. So we got to start that. You see some plays out there that we are very close.”
No, no. It’s the small things, the discipline, and the precision that wins games in the NFL. There are no “runs” without that. He’s right to ask for “a little more” from each player.
So far this season Marqise Lee has been the best offensive player the Jaguars have and the most improved as well. He’s figured out how to play in the NFL and how to stay healthy enough to stay on the field. He’s able to see a big picture idea of what the difference is between winning and losing at this level.
“At the end of the day, we’ve been in position the last couple of weeks and have had opportunities,” he said standing in front of his locker. “We’ve got to capitalize on those opportunities. At the end of the day, I think that’s what good teams do. It’s not going to be pretty for all four quarters or the whole sixty minutes. We’re not going to play flawless football, but at the end of the day, we’ve got to capitalize on our opportunities.”
“You can’t really do anything about it,” Blake said of the frustration of losing. “It does no good to get mad at the fans for whatever they do. They’re in control of nothing, so it’s on us, it’s on me, to go out and go play. Go play as hard as you can and have fun and be successful. I know people are agitated and frustrated with everything–as are we. This isn’t fun for anybody.”
Amen to that.