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View from the O-Zone: 'He’s not stressed'

Posted Jan 10, 2018

Oehser: QB Blake Bortles may be getting criticized – again – as the Jaguars prepare for Sunday’s AFC Divisional Playoff game, but that’s not something that bothers the fourth-year veteran

JACKSONVILLE – He’s used to all of this.

Blake Bortles long ago has come to expect – and accept – the questions, criticism, scrutiny and everything else that goes with playing quarterback in the NFL. Most important for the Jaguars this week:

He knows how to handle it, and he handles it beyond well.

He has done it routinely in recent weeks. As the Jaguars’ fourth-year starter on Wednesday prepared for yet another Biggest Game of his Career, he handled it again.

Reporter: How many more games do you have to win, how much more do you have to do silence the haters?

Bortles smiled and rubbed his beard.

“It will probably never stop,” Bortles said as the AFC South Champion Jaguars (11-6) prepared to play the AFC North Champion Pittsburgh Steelers (13-3) in an AFC Divisional Playoff at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Sunday at 1:05 p.m.

“There are people who think LeBron James sucks, so I’m sure there will be people who always think I suck.”

Bortles closed his weekly media availability with that quote, but this wasn’t exactly a drop-mic moment for the long-scrutinized, much-criticized and oft-over-criticized quarterback.

No, hearing criticism and responding to it is pretty par for Bortles’ career course – and in fact, it seems to have gotten lost in some circles of NFL paralysis by analysis, that far from being an NFL playoff failure, Bortles is in fact 1-0 as a postseason quarterback.

Here’s where that fact isn’t lost: Among the Jaguars’ coaching staff and his teammates.

“He is tough, both mentally and physically,” Jaguars Head Coach Doug Marrone said Monday. “He shows up every day. He just wants to know what he has to do, what he has to improve on, what he has to do to help the offense and just go to work. That is the way he’s been all year. He hasn’t changed.”

Those quotes came in the wake of a statistically rough game from Bortles, who threw for 87 yards and a touchdown in a 10-3 victory over Buffalo in an AFC Wild Card Playoff game Sunday. And they came amid national criticism of Bortles that sometimes seems to never end.

But as that quotes indicates, such criticism doesn’t extend to the Jaguars’ organization. The players’ support this season of their quarterback shouldn’t be questioned, and this very much is an organization behind its quarterback entering Sunday’s Divisional Playoff.

“We don’t worry about that,” wide receiver Marqise Lee said. “Blake did a good job. I’m pretty sure he’s not stressed. We just have to go out and play. A lot of people are bringing up last week. Last week we won … I think people forget about that.”

Indeed, Bortles’ first career postseason victory provided ample information for those with Bortles and those against. He struggled mightily in the first half, completing six of 15 passes for 33 yards and nearly throwing an interception.

And yet, Bortles closed the half by rushing for 32 yards on the drive that tied the game, 3-3.

He then passed for 39 yards and ran for 20 on the game’s most critical possession, an 86-yard drive that he capped with a 1-yard touchdown pass to tight end Ben Koyack on fourth-and-goal from the Bills 1.

“I think there are two different ways of looking at,” Bortles said. “I think you look at the numbers and look at the game and say you played terrible. Or you look at it and say things weren’t going right here and you found a way to win, be efficient, move the ball and do different things. I think that’s how I feel about it.

“We didn’t have our A-game. I missed a couple of throws. Things weren’t going well, but scrambling around and doing some different things and guys making some plays, we found a way to score one more time than they did and that’s what you have to do.”

And you know what? That’s how Bortles should think about, because that’s what the NFL playoffs are about. You win and move on – and more specifically, you find a way to win in whatever circumstances are happening in that particular game that day.

Will the Jaguars beat the Steelers with Bortles playing as he did Sunday? Probably not. But the guess here is the Jaguars’ approach in Pittsburgh will be different than it was Sunday. Whereas playing conservatively was enough against the Bills, a more aggressive approach likely will be needed. Bortles has thrived at times this season in this approach, and he may well have that chance Sunday.

However the Jaguars approach Sunday, one thing that won’t be a concern is how Bortles prepares, or how he will respond to outside noise. Yes, Bortles is used to this now – more than used to it actually. But he knows how to handle it and he handles it well.

And that could prove very important indeed for the Jaguars Sunday.

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