Jaguars' Blake Bortles explains how he handles his critics
The 2014 first-round pick had his best season in 2017 and now he's looking to build on it
Blake Bortles has been a target of criticism pretty much from the moment he arrived in Jacksonville. The 2014 first-round pick started 13 games as a rookie and hasn't missed a start in the three years since. And until 2017, he had never led the team to more than five wins in a season.
But that changed last fall, thanks in part to a dominating defense, a balanced offense and Bortles playing the best football of his young career. When it was over, the Jags went 10-6 in the regular season, finished atop the AFC South, and made it to the AFC Championship game where they had a chance to upend the Patriots.
New England prevailed but Bortles played well in the game and parlayed his '17 campaign into a three-year, $54 million contract extension. As he heads into Year 5, the 26-year-old quarterback remains willing to embrace his critics.
"There's times when I deserve it," Bortles said during a recent appearance on NFL Network. "And I don't have a problem admitting that I didn't play good. And I don't have a problem with people critiquing me when I don't play good. It's just never really bothered me. I love going to work every day. I love playing football, and the locker room, so why let something affect me that I have no control over?"
As a rookie in 2014, Bortles ranked dead last in total value among all quarterbacks, according to Football Outsiders' metrics. He improved to 25th in total value in 2015, when he threw 35 touchdowns along with 18 interceptions and five lost fumbles. And if 2016 was among his most disappointing -- Bortles had 23 touchdowns, 16 interceptions and six fumbles and there were constant calls to bench him for Chad Henne -- last season was his most encouraging.
Still, the inertia of "BORTLES IS TERRIBLE!" storylines perpetuated the perception that he's among the league's worst quarterbacks. In reality, he's a replacement-level passer -- and that's not necessarily a bad thing. In terms of value per play in 2017, Bortles ranked 16th -- between Russell Wilson and Dak Prescott. That's pretty good company.
"I've said it a bunch all year long," Bortles told reporters back in January after the Jaguars beat the Steelers in the divisional round of the playoffs. " . I couldn't care less what anyone in the world says about me. I enjoy going to work every day with those guys in that locker room and the coaching staff. I enjoy everything we do, and this is the type of thing that you dream of -- to get opportunities to play in games like this. To be able to come here and do that against a team like Pittsburgh, it will never change for me."
A week after those comments, Bortles played well enough for the Jaguars to beat the Patriots. He finished 23 of 36 for 293 yards with a touchdown and no turnovers (in fact, Bortles didn't have a single turnover in three postseason games).
Now the Jaguars head into 2018 as favorites to recapture the division. Any success they have will depend on how Bortles plays, and.
"When we started [offseason workouts] last year, it was kind of an elementary level, in terms of 'I'm hearing the play, I'm thinking about the footwork I have to take, the identification, trying to remember what routes guys are running and all that,'' Bortles said earlier this month, via the Florida Times-Union's John Reid. "Now, I think I'm kind of owning the offense and having a better understanding of it. Obviously, it is a continuous study and a continuous grind to continue to master it and stay on top of it, but I definitely feel more comfortable with it."
For the first time in a long time, the Jaguars don't have any real concerns about the quarterback position. And that, coupled with one of the NFL's best defenses and a stout running attack led by Leonard Fournette, puts them on the very short list of teams capable of beating the Patriots in the postseason.
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