JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Blake Bortles is the Jacksonville Jaguars’ starting quarterback for Sunday’s game against Philadelphia, but the third overall pick in 2014 knows he could permanently lose that job if he continues to turn the ball over the way he has done the last three weeks.
Yet Bortles says that’s not going to impact the way he plays against the Eagles.
“You’ve just got to go play. I don’t think you can worry about it,” Bortles said after Friday’s practice at Allianz Park in London in his first media opportunity since he was re-instated. “You can’t play the position and play the game constantly worrying about, ‘What happens if I make a mistake?’
“I’ve always kind of played fearless and not scared to make the mistake. I think that’s allowed me to make some plays, but in saying that, I’ve got to also be smart and obviously take calculated risks and make sure whatever I’m doing is putting us in position to score.”
Bortles hasn’t done that the last three weeks and that’s why, after his second lost fumble early in the second half of Sunday’s 20-7 loss to Houston, coach Doug Marrone sent him to the bench for backup Cody Kessler.
At that point the Jaguars had committed nine turnovers in a little more than 10 quarters. Bortles had eight, including four interceptions and a fumble in a Week 5 loss at Kansas City. He also hadn’t led the Jaguars to any first-half points in losses to the Chiefs, Dallas and the Texans. Kessler led the Jaguars to a touchdown but also fumbled when he was sacked and had a pass bounce off running back T.J. Yeldon’s hands and get intercepted.
After re-watching the game Sunday night and Monday, Marrone opted to stick with Bortles as his starter but he said he’s treating quarterback the same way he would any other spot: Bortles holds onto the job until it’s clear that his performance is hurting the team without being attributed to other factors.
“I’ve got to go play, be smart, take care of the football,” Bortles said. “Do the things that kind of we’ve always preached, things that are obviously important as far as playing quarterback. Get completions, be efficient, move the chains, score points, and most importantly take care of the ball.”
Another area he wants to improve: Getting off to a fast start. The Jaguars scored points on their opening possessions in their three victories (New York Giants, New England and New York Jets) but have failed to score in their four losses. That includes losing a fumble on the third offensive snap last Sunday against the Texans.
“It’s kind of been our thing this year: When we start fast we play well and win and when we don’t it’s equal to loss,” Bortles said. “Although you don’t want to have it like that you want to be able to if you don’t start fast find ways to make adjustments, score points, and be competitive regardless. But in knowing that we’ve got to, I think, put that much importance on the start and how we come out of the gate and expect to start fast and want to score touchdowns right away.
“If we don’t then we’ve got to find ways to still score throughout the game and get it together.”
Part of the slow starts can be attributed to injuries to running back Leonard Fournette, along the offensive line, and at tight end and inconsistent play along the line and at receiver. The Jaguars traded for running back Carlos Hyde last week and he’s expected to make his debut on Sunday, which should help since Fournette will miss his fourth consecutive game and fifth sixth overall with a hamstring injury.
Sunday’s game is critical for the Jaguars (3-4) to keep from falling two games behind Houston (5-3) in the AFC South and for Bortles’ future with the franchise. The criticisms, calls for a permanent benching, and quarterback trade rumors this week have been at an all-time since Bortles’ arrival in 2014. Though he recently signed a three-year contract extension and has a salary cap figure of $21.5 million and dead money figure of $16.5 million in 2019, the Jaguars may opt to find another quarterback if Bortles can’t turn his season around.
Bortles says he feels no additional pressure, though.
“There’s been pressure it seems like since I got to Jacksonville, so it’s kind of normal,” Bortles said. “I think there’s pressure at every position at all times in the NFL. If you’re not getting the job done or playing well or being successful they’ll eventually replace you and find somebody else that can.
“… I think I’ve always kind of had an ability to ignore it, I guess, the outside noise, or the pressure or whatever you want to call it and kind of just focus on going and playing football. I’ve always just thought and believed you win football games eventually the noise will go away. That’s all I want to do. I try to do whatever I can to help this team win. Obviously the past couple weeks haven’t been great and we’re looking forward to changing that script this week.”
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