JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Only 11 players on the Jaguars roster have playoff experience. Not included in that group is quarterback Blake Bortles. Sunday’s wild-card game against the Buffalo Bills will be the start of his first postseason run.
His stat line of 3,687 yards passing, 21 touchdowns and 13 interceptions doesn’t jump off the screen. What can’t be measured is the maturity he’s shown in the face of adversity. At various points this season, Bortles has taken the field without all three of his top wide receivers.
Allen Robinson tore his ACL on the first offensive drive of the season, Allen Hurns missed six games with an ankle injury and Marqise Lee has been out the past two games with an ankle injury. Coming into this season Dede Westbrook, Keelan Cole and Jaydon Mickens had a total of zero career catches.
“Most quarterbacks in that situation may pretend like they’re not stressed but they really are stressed,” said Lee. “In Blake’s situation I don’t feel like he’s stressed at all. He’s just had to handle what’s in front of him. I think he developed that from when A-Rob went down.”
The trio of inexperienced receivers has had their share of ups and downs but a lot of their success has to do with the confidence instilled in them by their quarterback.
“I think it’s been, with some injuries at wide receiver, we’ve had to make sure that – because there are going to be times when guys mess up, said Bortles. “Dede (Westbrook) has played, what, 10 games in the NFL or maybe less than that. Keelan (Cole) and (Jaydon) Mickens and these guys are young and having to play a whole lot of football in the NFL. I think to be able to have that calming voice of rather than getting mad. There are guys that are going to yell at them when they mess up, coaches and stuff do that. That’s fine. I think there needs to be a sense of calm, understanding what you did wrong, ‘let’s correct it,’ and then I think a little bit also giving those guys the confidence of ‘let’s get on the same page, we’re okay. I’ll keep giving you shots, keep giving you the ball,’ and try to keep them on track and keep them from getting a little haywire.”
A perfect example is when Westbrook dropped a sure touchdown during last Sunday’s loss to the Titans. Potentially game-changing plays like that would frustrate most quarterbacks, but not Bortles. He doesn’t expect to alter that calm demeanor even though games are now win or go home.
“I think I will be able to continue to be like that,” said Bortles. “I don’t expect a change or expect the stage or a playoff game to alter my mentality or how I go about playing the football game.
With Hurns returning to the lineup last Sunday the Jaguars have another voice that provides guidance for the young receivers.
“Obviously we’re happy to get him back,” said Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone. “I think it’s more important we look at just the Sunday in a performance manner with the questions, but I think a lot of that comes during the week, too, of him being out on the field, him working during the week. That confidence, and then the other guys he’s talking to them about, ‘hey, let’s make sure we prepare this,’ and that’s how the leadership comes in.”