Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

After Forced Reset, Bortles Stepping Up

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

After Forced Reset, Bortles Stepping Up

Article excerpt

Byline: Ryan O'Halloran

A month ago, Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles threw one time out of 23 plays in the second half of a win at Pittsburgh.

Bortles was on a one-way ticket to Game Manager Land ... if he wasn't already there. Hand it off. Make a few third-down throws. Cheer on Leonard Fournette and Chris Ivory.

But this is the NFL. Stuff happens, like injuries, disciplinary decisions and adjustments. Teams need to be able to consistently stretch the field. In the last three games, the Jaguars' passing game has happened.

in Games 1-5, Bortles averaged 27 attempts, 14.8 completions and 165.4 yards per game.

In the last three games, Bortles has averaged 33 attempts, 21.7 completions and 276.7 yards per game.

Yes, the Jaguars have the NFL's No. 1 running game (166.5-yard average), but as the season's first half closed with a 23-7 win Sunday over Cincinnati, their passing plan showed more signs of life.

"The past couple weeks, I've felt really comfortable," said Bortles, who was 24-of-38 passing for 259 yards and one touchdown against the Bengals. "Obviously, the numbers vary and things like that [but] I've felt good all year long."

Throughout training camp, one number the Jaguars planned on having was No. 15 (Allen Robinson). But he tore his ACL on the third play of the season, creating a gigantic void in terms of presence (opponents respected him) and production (an estimated 150 targets).

Just like that, the Jaguars had to hit the reset button on their passing game. Receivers had to grow into new roles, Bortles had to learn how they ran Robinson's routes and offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett had to go back to the coaching staff's office whiteboard for new ideas.

It took time.

Bortles completed 54.8 percent of his passes (74 of 135) in the first five games and had a passer rating of 81.3. There was still a figurative gasp when he scrambled out of the pocket or threw down the middle of the field. And the receivers weren't consistently getting open.

In the last three games, Bortles has completed 65.7 percent of his passes (65 of 99) and has a passer rating of 97.6. And the Jaguars are piercing teams with big plays; 18 explosive plays (at least 16 yards) in Games 6-8 compared to 17 in Games 1-5.

Particularly in the last two games, Bortles' comfort level appears to be growing. Against the Bengals' fourth-ranked pass defense, he showed good touch on a 37-yard catch and run by tight end Marcedes Lewis, was lights out on third down (12 of 15 for 125 yards and a 123.6 rating) and was on-point with his pocket awareness, stepping up in the pocket to throw.

"A lot of people have been talking about a crazy mess about him and things like that," receiver Marqise Lee said. "At end of the day, he's gone out and showed what he can do."

A crazy mess would have been the Jaguars' offense had Bortles continued his career-long trend of back-breaking turnovers. …

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