Everybody talks about the “eye test” in sports. Looking at the Jaguars early in the year, the “eye test” showed them as a young, flawed team with a long way to go before they scared anybody in the NFL. As the year has progressed, the “eye test” didn’t change any opinions as the losses mounted. A few glimpses, beating the Browns, end of the Titans game but generally it felt like another extended preseason as the Jaguars coaches were looking for which players on this year’s team would help them win in the future, as in next year.
But at the end of the Giants game, things changed. After not doing much on offense for most of the game, the Jaguars and Blake Bortles came to life. Starting deep in their own territory but only needing a field goal to win, Bortles took command. A little extra zip on his passes. Positive decision-making, good footwork and some solid throws gave the Jaguars the ball near midfield. The receivers routes were crisp. The offensive line had their best blocking sequence of the day. That’s when Bortles ran the read-option, twice, overcoming penalties, getting to the NY 25 and setting Josh Scobee up for the game winning FG.
And according to the “eye test” the Jaguars looked like a different team.
“He’s a baller,” veteran Tight End Marcedes Lewis said of Bortles in the post-game locker room. “He took command. You could see it. You could hear it in the huddle. I’ll play with that guy anytime.” Without many veterans on the team, Lewis is one of the players who can give some perspective on where this team is.
“This changes things,” he added. “He believes. We believe in him.” “That’s what we see in practice every day,” Head Coach Gus Bradley said during the week. “The command, the sense of urgency, its part of the process.”
Oh yes, “the process.”
As the Jaguars go on “this journey” as Bradley likes to call what’s going on, “the process” has shown improvement but it’s been slow. Painfully slow.
Against the Texans today we’ll see if that process has sped up at all after last week’s win. Sometimes the lessons are hard in the NFL, but sometimes they come fast and furious. Can the Jaguars offense transfer that confidence they displayed in the final drive against the Giants directly into the first quarter against Houston? Those crisp routes, that quick decision-making and that sense of urgency are what this team needs in every drive to compete. Their margin of error is small, so the precision that Bradley has talked about all year is necessary to be in games with a chance to win in the 4th quarter.
Houston is the perfect opponent for today’s test. They’re good but not great. With JJ Watt having an MVP-type year and Ryan Fitzpatrick throwing six TD’s last week, they can do a lot of things well when they get some confidence and momentum. Can the Jaguars match that?