NFL: Jaguars beat Browns

Five weeks ago, Jacksonville Jaguars fans got the gift they thought they’d have to wait at least another year for.When Head Coach Gus Bradley finally made the choice to send rookie quarterback Blake Bortles on the field to start the second half against Indianapolis last month, fans cheered, critics sighed and the experts scooted to the edge of their seats.

It was finally time to see what the third pick in the 2014 NFL Draft was all about.

While Bradley tried his best to assure the world Bortles would not play this season, it didn’t take a rocket scientist to see that Chad Henne just wasn’t working out. The Jags took a beating in the first two games of the season and were down 30-0 before Bortles took over. Bortles would finish the game completing 14 of 24 passes for 223 yards, tossing two touchdowns and added two interceptions. The stats were good enough to earn his first NFL start one week later at San Diego.

Since then, the Jags offense has gained a little extra pep in its step. The losses kept coming, but something looked different.

“[Blake] Bortles has brought an excitement and sense of hope to the fans of this team I haven’t felt since the 90s,” Jaguars fan John Garnto said. “His physical tools are, of course, impressive, but it’s the poise, confidence and leadership he has displayed at such an early stage in his career that makes me believe we may be witnessing the beginnings of something special down at EverBank.”

Garnto, 40, is a longtime Jaguars fan, and a believer in Bortles. He was so excited when Bortles finally got on the field, he immediately changed his Fantasy Football team to #BlakeBortles IsFree.

It’s just a small showing of the level of enthusiasm the fans are displaying as they stand behind yet another quarterback, a position the Jaguars haven’t been very strong in since the days Mark Brunell was taking snaps.

When the Jaguars drafted Blaine Gabbert in 2011, fans were optimistic that the Jaguars had the best guy in the draft. In a similar situation as Bortles, Gabbert was thrown into the starting role after just two weeks of poor play by then starter Luke McCown.

Gabbert never reached his potential, eventually getting traded to San Francisco for a draft pick.

Is there the thought that Bortles could become the next Gabbert – full of potential, yet thrown to the wolves too soon?

“I would have to go back to the intangible qualities I mention, the poise, confidence and leadership,” Garnto said. “We have seen more of those attributes in the first few games of the Bortles Era than the entire time Gabbert was here.”

Among all the potential and other great qualities Bortles possesses, there is still a rookie that will, and is, going to make mistakes. Bortles leads the league in interceptions with 10, which averages about two per game. That puts him on pace for 28 interceptions this season, a strikingly high number. Then again, the more observant fans will tell you Peyton Manning also threw 28 interceptions as a rookie.

Bortles led the Jaguars to its first win of the season last week against Cleveland, a convincing 24-6 win that showed both sides of the rookie. Bortles had a mediocre game, at best, completing 17 of 31 passes for 159 yards and a touchdown. He also threw three interceptions.

Yet, he showed the fans, critics and everyone else what he was capable of when the Jaguars were down 6-0 with 1:33 left to play in the first half. Bortles needed just three plays and just over a minute of the clock to get the Jaguars down the field and in the end zone for the lead, one they wouldn’t give up the remainder of the game.

Bortles went 3-for-3 with 71 yards on that drive.

That’s the kind of performance all Jaguars fans hope is the future of the team.


About David Rosenblum