Blake Bortles Finishing Up-and-Down Rookie Season on Strong Note

Giancarlo Ferrari-King@@GiancarloKingFeatured ColumnistDecember 19, 2014

Rob Foldy/Getty Images

Nothing has been easy for Jacksonville Jaguars rookie quarterback Blake Bortles.

The struggles he's endured since taking over for Chad Henne earlier this season have been well-documented in written form—and, more importantly, on film.

Any way you look at it, Bortles has a long road to travel with his development if he wants to become a true franchise quarterback—a term that's actually not as cut-and-dried as its name suggests.

JACKSONVILLE, FL - DECEMBER 18:  Blake Bortles #5 of the Jacksonville Jaguars runs the ball in the fourth quarter against the Tennessee Titans at EverBank Field on December 18, 2014 in Jacksonville, Florida.  (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

Not counting how bad his offensive line has been, shoddy decision-making and a true lack of accuracy are the two biggest things that stand out when one watches him work.

Back in Week 9 of the NFL season, Sports Illustrated's Doug Farrar brought some much-needed clarity to the Bortles narrative. He touched on what a terrible situation the team threw the QB into in Week 3:

Bortles is playing on a very young team, with a sketchy offensive line and targets who are still trying to figure it out. In a more experienced system, he could be managed within the overall structure, but the Jags have little choice but to throw Bortles to the wolves and hope it doesn't ruin him.

To be fair, the Jaguars didn't give Bortles the easiest job in the world. Not counting Cecil Shorts III, the other three wide receivers with the most yards on the team are all first-year players: Allen Hurns, Allen Robinson and Marqise Lee.

We've seen the worst of Bortles—his three-interception day against the Cleveland Browns comes to mind—and we've also witnessed some positive things from the former UCF Knight.

The 21-13 home win on Thursday Night Football over the Tennessee Titans was his best performance to date.

Working his way back from a foot injury, per Ryan O'Halloran of The Florida Times-Union, Bortles was able to suit up in Week 16.

It didn't start out well. His accuracy was horrible early. It didn't matter if he was dumping the football off or trying to push it toward the sidelines; he never gave his pass-catchers a chance.

Those issues, compounded by a slow ground attack, forced the Jaguars to punt away the football on their first four possessions.

Marcedes Lewis hauls in a big touchdown late in the second quarter.
Marcedes Lewis hauls in a big touchdown late in the second quarter.Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press/Associated Press

Things finally clicked for Bortles on the team's final drive of the second half.

It was a beautiful 11-play, 80-yard drive that culminated with the QB motioning his 6'6" tight end, Marcedes Lewis, to the outside before lofting the ball up to him in the corner of the end zone.

Lewis used his height to corral a four-yard touchdown pass, which was all the Jaguars needed to get back into the game.

With the Jags down 10-7 headed into the half, there was suddenly a spark of confidence in the air thanks to Bortles. It's the kind of confidence Bortles' teammates already have in him, as made evident by wide receiver Cecil Shorts III's comments after the win, via Michael DiRocco of ESPN.com:

That’s that 'it' factor, man. That’s why he went third overall. He's got that 'it' about him. When you really need it, he's going to make the play, he's going to find a guy, he's going to do what he needs to do. You’re only going to see him continue to get better and better and better.

Including that first TD, Jacksonville went on to score 21 unanswered points behind a thundering ground attack and Bortles' arm. With his team rushing for 177 yards and two touchdowns as a unit, Bortles had 50 of those yards on five carries.

More important than his rushing numbers was the fact that he looked great moving outside of the pocket. Anytime offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch designed a play to get him moving, good things happened.

It felt like when the offense stalled, Bortles was always standing still.

Passing-wise, his final totals weren't good enough to make fantasy football owners sing and dance. He completed just 13 of 26 passes for 115 yards and a touchdown.

The box score itself isn't appealing. It's not a work of art. But that's fitting, considering Bortles' game isn't a thing of beauty right now.

His game is about that one word we have all come to love: adversity.

Faced with a challenge, he responded in a big way Thursday night. And that has to count for something.

JACKSONVILLE, FL - DECEMBER 18: Marqise Lee #11 of the Jacksonville Jaguars signals for a first down after a pentaly flag was thrown for pass interference during the second half of the game against the Tennessee Titans at EverBank Field on December 18, 20
Rob Foldy/Getty Images

What happens next is anyone's guess. The upcoming offseason will be big for Bortles. He'll have to refine his mechanics, work on his accuracy and develop chemistry with pass-catchers like Lee, Hurns and Robinson.

Meanwhile, the Jaguars are going to have to do something about this pathetic excuse for an offensive line. WJXT sports anchor Michael Kelly tweeted midgame about how bad this line has been:

Michael Kelly @MichaelLKelly

My ONLY reason not to start Blake Bortles earlier in the year was the inept offensive line. Jags have now allowed 63 sacks this season.

There's plenty to like about Bortles. He has a good arm, can extend plays with his legs and has proved that even when you knock him to the ground, he just picks himself right back up and keeps plugging away.

Be happy, ladies and gentlemen. Thursday night's win against the Titans was a strong showing for this young man, despite all of struggles he's endured during his up-and-down rookie crusade.

Unless noted otherwise, all game scores and information come courtesy of ESPN.com.


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