The second installment of A Retrospective: Blake Bortles Rookie Season examines weeks 5-7, when The Jaguars hosted the Steelers, traveled To Tennessee, and came back home to play the Cleveland Browns.
After an exciting first game and a half for rookie Blake Bortles, it was time to face the Steelers. The long time Steelers’ defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau (now Titans defensive coordinator), had only lost to a rookie quarterback twice in his career. To put even more pressure on the young quarterback, the Steelers always have a large (and some would say obnoxious) following when they play in Jacksonville. After Throwing 2 interceptions in each of his first 2 games, Bortles would need to improve upon his decision making and footwork in order to lead the Jaguars to victory against this long-time rival. On the first drive of the game Blake tried to challenge veteran cornerback William Gay, and Bortles was nearly intercepted. The majority of this game was extremely dull. The Jaguars and Steelers exchanged field goals. The first game changing play did not happen until the middle of the second quarter, when Blake decided to throw deep down the right sideline to Allen Robinson. Cortez Allen was running stride for stride with Robinson and picked the ball off easily. Blake had sloppy footwork on the throw, but even if he had thrown a perfect ball it would have been difficult to beat the coverage on the play. It was a bad decision by Blake, but the Jaguars defense was able to hold the Steelers after the interception. The Jaguars next drive stalled out and they were forced to punt. The Steelers marched down the field and scored a touchdown to make the score 10-3 Steelers. On the next drive Bortles was able to make a few nice throws and lead the team to a field goal before half time, making the score 10-6. The next important play for Bortles came late in the game with the Jaguars in position to take the lead in the fourth quarter. The Jaguars were trailing 10-9 with just over 12 minutes left in the game when Blake made a terrible read. He threw a pick 6 straight to a Steelers defender who was just waiting for him to throw it. This cost the Jaguars the game on a day when they probably did not deserve to win. Bortles was largely unimpressive throughout this game. He went 22/36 for only 191 yards, with no touchdowns and 2 interceptions. This was the first game of his career that was really unimpressive. He would need to improve on his mistakes if the Jaguars hoped to compete the next week with the lowly Titans.
The next week the Jaguars traveled to Nashville, Tennessee to play their arch nemesis, the Tennessee Titans. This would be Blake Bortles first start against a division opponent. After his worst outing of the young season Blake needed to show his stuff. His opportunity to shine came early on in the game. On the first 3rd down of the game for the Jaguars, Blake took the snap from the gun, stepped up in the pocket and delivered a strike to Allen Hurns for the first down. Blake was off to a good start. A couple of plays later he was lined up under center, he took the snap, did a play action fake, looked down the field and threw a wobbly ball on the money to Clay Harbor who was streaking down the sideline. After a 59 yard gain, Harbor was brought down at the Titan 8 yard line. Despite not having his feet set properly, Bortles was able to deliver the ball with great accuracy. This huge play led to a Storm Johnson touchdown, which gave the Jaguars a 7-0 lead. The Jaguars defense gave up a field goal on the following drive. The Jags got the ball back and Blake looked to respond. On 2nd and 10, lined up in the gun, he was able to evade pressure, escape the pocket while keeping his eyes down field, where he found no open receivers, so he decided to take off and was able to get a first down and get out of bounds without getting hit. On this play he showed awareness, and great athleticism. Later on, at the beginning of the 2nd Quarter Blake was able to hit Allen Robinson on an out route. On the pass he displayed good footwork and arm strength, getting the ball to the outside. The next few drives stalled out, but Blake was able to show good touch and timing on a couple of screen passes before halftime. The Titans scored on a long drive before halftime and led the Jaguars 10-7 going into the break. The Titans got the ball first in the second half and managed to get a field goal. The first drive of the second half was going well for Blake despite missing Cecil on what would have been a completion if Blake had been able to set his feet properly. The Jaguars were driving deep into Titans territory when the drive came to an abrupt end. Bortles was looking for Allen Hurns on a button hook, but when Hurns slipped and fell coming out of his break the ball went straight into the hands of the waiting defender. This interception was definitely not on Blake. There were a few more throws in the second half where Bortles showed good footwork, and a few where he displayed terrible footwork. The Titans got a field goal after the interception and led the Jaguars 16-7. Overall, Blake was playing very well in this game, despite the Jaguars being down. Both the Jaguars and Titans subsequent drives stalled, which led to the Jags getting the ball at their own 20 with a chance to get within one point of the Titans. Blake drove the team down the field admirably, but the drive came to a screeching halt when Cecil Shorts fumbled the ball inside the Titans’ 10 yard line. The Jaguars defense stopped the Titans, but with so little time left things seemed hopeless for the winless Jaguars. Blake led the team down the field again and managed to find Clay Harbor down the middle of the field for a 20 yard touchdown. The Jaguars failed to convert on the two point conversion and trailed the Titans by 2 points with 37 seconds left in the game. The Jags lined up for the onside kick, the ball bounced around and looked to be recovered by the Titans, but LaRoy Reynolds was able to dive onto the ball at the last second and give the Jaguars a new hope (yes, that was a Star Wars reference). Blake got the team into field goal range. With 12 seconds left, Josh Scobee lined up and hoped to kick the game winning field goal. The kick was blocked and the Jaguars lost the game. A heartbreaking loss for a team that just could not get over the hump. The Jaguars were now 0-6, and 0-3 with Blake as the starting quarterback. Despite the loss, Blake seemed to improve on that day. He played with more consistency and his only interception was the receivers fault. He threw for 336 and a touchdown. The Jaguars moved on quickly, as in spite of the agonizing defeat, they had to play the 4 and 2 Cleveland Browns the next week.
Cleveland and their fans rolled into Jacksonville feeling good about themselves. They were off to a great start to the season and they saw blood in the water as the Jaguars hadn't won a game. The Jaguars had a bad taste in their mouth after the narrow defeat to the Titans the week before. The stage was set and the teams were ready. The Browns and Jaguars traded punts for half on the first quarter. With just over 7 minutes gone in the first, the Jaguars were driving when Blake threw a horrendous pass that was intercepted easily by Tashaun Gipson. Bortles did not step into the throw and the ball was well short of his target. Had the ball been thrown accurately, it likely would have been a completion. After the interception the Browns scored a field goal to take the early 3-0 lead. The rest of the first half was uneventful until the Browns scored another field goal to take a 6 point lead with just over four minutes remaining in the half. The Jaguars received the ball after the field and would try to respond before halftime. Unfortunately, Blake threw another interception to Gipson. Bortles pass was intended for Denard Robinson who simply got beat to the ball by the defender. Robinson would wish he could have that play back as it cost the Jaguars the ball and a chance to take the lead before halftime. Needless to say this game was not going well for Blake. The Browns aggressively tried to score again before halftime and turned the ball over on a fourth and one which gave the Jaguars another shot at scoring before the half. Blake Bortles was able to capitalize on the Browns mistake by finding Allen Robinson for a 31 yard touchdown. On the play, Bortles stood in the pocket and delivered a strike to Robinson, who then turned up field, evaded two defenders and raced to the end zone to give the Jaguars a 7-6 halftime lead. The start of the second half was uneventful, and after a Jaguars field goal they lead 10-6. Late in the third quarter the Jaguars were driving deep in Browns Territory when Blake made a terrible read, with terrible footwork and was intercepted for the third time in the game. Fortunately, the Jaguars defense was able to stop the Browns. The Browns wouldn't score again for the rest of the game and the Jaguars would score 2 rushing touch downs to take the win with a score of 24-6 in front of their home crowd. The Browns were shocked that day. It was a great team win for the Jaguars, but a very poor performance by Blake. He helped the team in certain situations, like the Allen Robinson touchdown pass, but he threw 3 interceptions, which is never acceptable. Blake got lucky, as the rest of the team played exceptionally well. Overall, his performances up to this point in the season were up and down. He had way too many turn overs, but he did show flashes of brilliance, sometimes for an extended period. It was clear that Blake was an excellent athlete who had great instincts. Would he be able to improve on his decision making and footwork? Stay tuned to find out …
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