JACKSONVILLE – This is what we wanted, and this is what we got.
We wanted this. You did, too (really). We – and you – wanted to play the kid. We wanted Blake Bortles to start. Not later, but now.
Remember the uproar? The emails? The callers to radio shows? The cheer when the Jaguars' rookie quarterback entered the game against the Indianapolis Colts in late September?
That was real. That was us – all of us. (And those people were right, by the way – but we'll get to that later).
Few of us cared much when coaches said Bortles perhaps wasn't ready to excel, that he wouldn't look the part every game. Few of us wanted to believe there would oh-my-goodness moments and oh-my-goodness games – and that sometimes in his rookie season those would overwhelm the good. Few of us wanted to believe what we'd seen in the preseason might not translate to immediate success.
Few of us wanted to believe he needed time.
We said we didn't care how many mistakes Bortles made because it had to be better and we didn't care what happened this season as long as he gained experience.
This is what gaining experience looks like:
It looks like long stretches where he looks confused.
It looks like interceptions going the other way.
It looks like it did Sunday, when Bortles struggled with knowing when to throw the ball away to avoid sacks. He struggled with it enough that he mentioned it at the start of his press conference after a loss in Baltimore Sunday. He struggled with it enough that Head Coach Gus Bradley discussed it the following day, and discussed, too, what Bortles needs most to improve.
When discussing that, Bradley discussed making better, quicker decisions.
And you know what? Bradley's right. Bortles needs to do those things.
And you know what else? All of those things we just listed?
They're all OK. Yes, all of them.
It's OK because what Bortles looks like this season is how he is supposed to look. He's supposed to look lost at times, and he's supposed to be learning how to "dirt" the ball. He's a playmaker with confidence, so he's supposed to think he can get outside the pocket and make plays. He's supposed to have to figure out that NFL defenders are faster than college defenders. A lot faster. He's supposed to have to figure out when it's smart to try to extend a play, and when it's smart to avoid the sack.
But!!!!! But the Jaguars are losing!!!! But the offense is struggling!!!!
But two touchdowns in four games!!!
Yeah, that ain't supposed to happen. Not in normal situations, but make no mistake:
This season with this Jaguars offense isn't a normal situation.
This is a youth movement to the extreme. When you have as many rookies playing as the Jaguars do –they're going to look sometimes like they don't know what they're doing. Yes, even in Week 16. They're going to still see things they haven't seen before, and sometimes when that happens quarterbacks take timeouts. Sometimes, blitzes get missed. Sometimes, interceptions get thrown. It takes a lot of things going right to score touchdowns in the NFL, and it only takes one thing wrong for everything to look wrong, and when you're as young as the Jaguars' offense one thing goes wrong enough to create stretches such as two touchdowns in four games.
That's the Jaguars' offense as Thursday's game against the Tennessee Titans approaches, and that's not good. And yeah, a lot of it's on Bortles.
He's struggling right now. That's undeniable.
But he's also undeniably showing positive things. He makes throws that make you go wow, and carries himself with confidence. He's improving, and in the first half against Baltimore, he played pretty darned well against a defense that's pretty darned good. He's tough, his teammates believe in him, and know this:
This franchise believes in him, too. He's the future. The build is around him.
Bradley and Fisch each discussed Bortles extensively this week, emphasizing the need to better balance the instinct – and ability – to make plays with knowing when a play is done. It's a delicate, critical balance, and one that is about instinct and feel. It's also about experience.
Bortles gained experience this season, which is why playing him – despite the difficulties, despite the growing pains – remains the right thing.
"If he sat for this year then we'd have these discussions in Week 12 or Week 13 next year, right?" Fisch said. "What would have happened if all of his experiences came next year? Now we have all of those to bank on which will make his offseason so much more powerful and he will be able to grow and grow and grow because he can remember what it felt like when he did it."
Bortles must keep working, and Fisch was right this week when he said the time between the end of the season and the beginning of the offseason program is key for Bortles. As Fisch said, he must study the offense, become immersed in it and know it instinctively. It must be second-nature, and he must spend the coming months on mechanics and fundamentals, too.
He has a long way to go, and the critical steps on that journey will start sometime after the final two regular season games.
So, yeah, he is struggling and we don't know his end game. But it's not out of the ordinary, and considering the circumstances, it's understandable. It's also what we wanted – what we all wanted.
And as his rookie season draws to a close, there's no reason to think what we received won't turn out just fine.