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Can Jaguars be Super Bowl team with Blake Bortles?

Peter Bukowski

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Jan 21, 2018; Foxborough, MA, USA; Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles (5) against the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship Game at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

With a limited quarterback, the Eagles beat the Patriots by playing to win, rather than hiding a quarterback nowhere near the caliber of their opponent.

With a limited quarterback, the Jacksonville Jaguars lost to the Patriots by playing not to lose, hiding their quarterback who was nowhere near the caliber of their opponent.

Blake Bortles‘ inability to make plays in the second half cost Jacksonville a chance to take down the dynastic Patriots, but so did Nathaniel Hackett’s repetitive and conservative play-calling. After a first half of masterful work, the Jaguars appeared to run out of plays. Give Matt Patricia and Bill Belichick credit as well — they gave the Jags some new looks, started blitzing Bortles, and Jacksonville had no answers.

Still, the Jaguars had a lead late in the fourth quarter on the road against the Patriots in New England.

Asking whether Blake Bortles is good enough to get Doug Marrone’s team to the Super Bowl ignores history. He nearly did it.

Maybe the defense won’t be quite as good, or will suffer injuries. But Jalen Ramsey could actually be better next season, along with Dante Fowler, Telvin Smith, and Myles Jack. Bortles thrived in part because his defense carried him, but that defense remains in place.

Leonard Fournette, Dede Westbrook, Keelan Cole and Cam Robinson should be better in Year 2, plus Allen Robinson will likely be back either on a new deal of a franchise tag.

Even if the defense plays 10 or 15 percent worse in 2018, the offense should be that much better with those pieces back and another draft class coming in.

It’s easy to forget now, or chalk their success up to garbage time stat-building, but the Bortles-to-Robinson connection had been one of the most potent combinations in football before Robinson tore his ACL last season. Putting them with a much improved offensive line, a stud running back, and an offensive coordinator who showed promise, could make this offense more than adequate.

It can be legitimately good.

Bortles and this offense did light up the Steelers in the divisional round to face the Patriots, no small feat against a top-10 defense on the road.

Jan 21, 2018; Foxborough, MA, USA; Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles (5) drops back to pass against the New England Patriots during the third quarter in the AFC Championship Game at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Another year to grow within this offense could do Bortles some good, plus he’ll finally be able to play some games with the lead and pound Fournette. That sets up play action. With Robinson back, defenses will have a decision to make: Do we load the box to stop their brutalizing run game, or keep two safeties deep to prevent Robinson and Cole from getting over the top?

Toward the end of the season, Jacksonville’s defense got exposed. The pass rush waned; teams were able to scheme guys free and create some big plays. But this 2018 version of the Jaguars will be much better equipped to go point-for-point with opponents.

Bortles showed the ability to light up prevent defenses in garbage time back in 2015 when he threw 35 touchdowns, but he also led the league in picks that year with 18. He would create big holes with stupid turnovers, then put up gaudy stats in the second half.

His interception rate fell each of the last two seasons — he took better care of the ball. His attempts also fell, but that’s part of the point here: Bortles can be effective if he is put in a position to succeed. He’s a tough player. A pick doesn’t cause him to turn tail and run.

If the Jaguars allow him to play and don’t hide or scheme around him, that doesn’t mean they will line up four-wide every play. They do have to stop fretting over him losing games.

They need to trust the defense to do its job, create turnovers, and hold teams to field goals.

Bortles thrived in December by pushing the ball down the field and trying to create big plays. Getting Robinson back with a developed Westbrook and Cole gives the Jaguars a dangerous downfield passing attack, ideally suited to play off the run game.

One of the biggest reasons Nick Foles thrived against the Patriots is the same reason we saw Case Keenum succeed in Minnesota and Drew Brees rebound in New Orleans: play action works.

Even New England, which doesn’t really have a run game, used it last season efficiently to create big plays down the field.

Bortles’ best weapon is Fournette. In 2018, he’ll have even better weapons to create those big plays. If he’s going to be a high-variance quarterback—and he likely always will be—Jacksonville must make sure those peaks are mountains, capable of overcoming some inevitable valleys.

Are the Jaguars good enough to compete for a Super Bowl with Blake Bortles? Definitively, the answer is yes. We saw them do it. They had the ball with a chance to win the game against the Patriots after leading the whole game.

The 2018 Jaguar roster should be even better than the 2017 version.

Of course, that doesn’t mean they will. But can they? Ask around in Duval County. They’ll give you the right answer.

Peter Bukowski is an award-winning writer, reporter and broadcaster living in New York. He has covered the NFL for Sports Illustrated, USA Today, Bleacher Report, Yahoo!, and many others. His work has been recognized by the Wisconsin Newspaper Association and the Society for Professional Journalists. Peter is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He hates your favorite team and makes dumb jokes on Twitter.

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