Blake Bortles finally got benched, and the Jaguars have begun the process of peeling off the band-aid.
It’s taken long enough, and there’s no certainty that the end is nigh, but the Blake Bortles era in Jacksonville is finally on thin ice. Given his horrible stat lines (outside of garbage time padding) and the general lack of confidence he instills in everyone as the leader of the team, it’s surprising that it took this long to happen.
That’s the kind of time riding a World Class defense to a conference title game will buy even a bad quarterback.
In the second half of a blowout loss to the Houston Texans, a huge divisional game, Bortles was benched for Cody Kessler. At the time of his benching, Bortles has posted an extremely Bortles line of 6-for-12, 61 yards and a pair of fumbles. In less than half the time Bortles played, Kessler went 10-for-15 with 57 yards and a touchdown.
It seems reductive, but this is not a new trend.
In games that Bortles has started, the Jaguars are 24-43. True to form, that number was padded into looking less bad when the defense had a meteoric rise last season. Since last year, Bortles has posted 10 games where he threw for less than 200 yards including one very special 95-yard performance. That game was Week 5 last year against the Steelers, a game where the Jaguars won on the road and established themselves as a team to take seriously. The reason Jacksonville won was a five-turnover day for the defense and a 99-yard rush by Leonard Fournette. While we all looked at the flashiness of the win, we ignored the fact that it was largely despite Bortles. It was the game that put Jacksonville’s defense on the map and was a perfect encapsulation of Bortles time in Duvall.
In 2017, a year that somehow bought Bortles more time as the Jaguars starter, he posted a QBR of 57.7 when Jacksonville was trailing between 9-to-16 points. He finished with 3,687 passing yards, but almost 1,300 yards came in games where the Jaguars were trailing. All of this led to just a single fourth-quarter comeback win for Bortles and the stat padding with him is not a new trend
With all of the hype about young quarterbacks playing well, Jacksonville does not get killed enough for passing on a quarterback of the future. Cleveland usually bears the brunt of criticism, rightfully so, for passing on quarterbacks that ended up being part of the next great generational wave but the Jaguars have somehow escaped this knock.
Let’s imagine, for a moment, a world in which the Jaguars tore the Bortles band-aid off early enough to draft Patrick Mahomes. There’s a legit argument to be made that he is the Russell Wilson elixir to the Jaguars Legion of Boom surge last year, up to and including the Super Bowl win. The Jaguars defense was good enough to almost beat the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship Game even with Bortles, but almost never got that far thanks to a pitiful Wild Card showing — at home, no less — against the Buffalo Bills.
Stakes were high on Sunday against Houston. The Jaguars were hosting a division rival with a chance to take an important lead in the AFC South. Bortles was once again unable to put together anything close to resembling a good performance and once again the Jaguars stunted their own potential growth. The record is broken, but the vinyl seems to have melted to the player and it feels like the tune will never change.
Bortles will not be benched indefinitely, but at some point enough has to be enough. The Jaguars defense is among the best in football but we’ve seen how quickly a window can close. Jacksonville has wasted enough time limping through the Blake Bortles era, it’s high time this universe becomes one of the many alternates where this pain doesn’t have to be endured at the hands of a much more capable quarterback.