O-Zone: Maybe... just maybe

JACKSONVILLE – Let's get to it … Mike from Atlanta, GA:
Blake Bortles is a good quarterback on a good offense on a playoff team. I wonder how likely it is that the Jaguars could get someone better in the offseason.
John: There indeed were two mammoth Jaguars stories Sunday, and I'm honestly not sure which one was bigger. The Jaguars clinched their first postseason appearance since 2007 with a 45-7 victory over the Houston Texans, and that's phenomenally significant for a franchise starved for success. But Bortles' continued improvement may be as big in the short- and long-term. He completed 21 of 29 passes for 326 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions Sunday, a performance that was in no way an outlier. He is the NFL's highest-rated quarterback in December and in three games during the month he has thrown for 903 yards, seven touchdowns and no interceptions. The Jaguars' defense has been elite all season. There's no reason to believe it won't continue to play at a Super Bowl level. If Bortles, the offensive line and receivers continue to play as they have in December, I don't know that there's an AFC team I'd favor over the Jaguars – and that's true no matter the site of the game. As for the question of Bortles' future, I've said throughout the last month that's something that will be best discussed after the season. It's simply too tricky to try to make a long-term judgement on a question so important amid the ups and downs of the regular season. But Bortles has been up more often than not this season and he has been way up for the last six weeks or so. Can the Jaguars do better in the offseason? It's starting to look doubtful. Very doubtful.
Mac from Jacksonville:
I love this team.
John: You're not alone.
Mark from Oceanway:
This is indirectly a Jaguars question. I really wanted Pittsburgh to win so we might get a Round 1 bye. John, how was that NOT a catch?!?!?
John: You're talking of course about the end of the Patriots-Steelers game in Pittsburgh Sunday. I know how it wasn't a catch, but just because I know doesn't mean it feels right. On the play in question, Steelers tight end Jesse James appeared to possess the ball and score on a would-be 10-yard touchdown pass that would have given Pittsburgh a late lead. It in all probability would have given the Steelers a victory and moved the Jaguars into the No. 2 seed in the AFC with two games remaining. Instead, the Patriots (11-3) won and now have the No. 1 seed over the 11-3 Steelers. The Jaguars now need to win out and have the Steelers and/or Patriots lose to improve their playoff seeding. That could still happen, but is seems a long shot. The answer to your question? How was it not a catch? Because the NFL rules said it wasn't a catch, but this was another case where the rule just seems faulty. James needed to control the catch through hitting the ground. He did not. But he had possession and broke the plane of the goal line. Everything about the play screamed "catch" and "touchdown." When that happens and the rule says differently it's time to reexamine the rule.
Brian from Round Rock, TX:
I love this team. How about Mickens? How about Blake? Playoffs? Playoffs? Yes, Playoffs! I love this team. I think it''s special. I think it will be Super. Go Jags!
John: #DTWD
James from Orange Park, FL:
You were right. There is no rule preventing the Jags from lining up and being the better team.
John: There's no rule about that in the postseason, either. I say that to make the point that many people are going to worry about and write a lot about playoff seeding and home-field advantage in the coming weeks. I suppose I'll write and talk about those topics, too. But I started saying after the Seattle game last Sunday that if the Jaguars' offensive line plays as it did in that game – and if Bortles plays as he has over the last few weeks – that this team can beat any team in the NFL. That includes the Steelers and Patriots – and yes, I believe that to be the case even if the Jaguars have to play those teams on the road. This defense is the best in the NFL. Not only that, it creates points and havoc on a level that should bother any offense, even ones quarterbacked by Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger. The question all season has been whether the offense can function at a high enough level to score enough points to give that defense a lead to protect. Is there any doubt watching Bortles and this offense the last three weeks that it can do that? I'm not saying the Jaguars will be favored to beat the Patriots or the Steelers. I'm not even saying they will get to play those teams. But this offense doesn't need to score 30, 30 or 45 points as it has done the last three weeks to win in the postseason. It needs to score in the 20s and get the defense leads. It absolutely is playing well enough to do that. So, can Jacksonville line up and be the better team against any team in the postseason? Absolutely.
Daniel from Jersey City, NJ:
Can we start discussing playoffs now!?
John: Yes.
Tim from Oklahoma City, OK:
Gosh. Mickens, Westbrook, and Cole. Wow. Talk about stepping up when they need to step up. I can't even imagine how good this team would be with Hurns, Robinson, and Lee.
John: I like many others thought the Jaguars' wide receivers were close to a liability a month ago. I also thought the only thing saving them from being a liability was Marqise Lee. Jaydon Mickens, Dede Westbrook and Keelan Cole couldn't have proven myself and many others more wrong.
Jeremy from Dodge City, KS:
Seriously, though: Clowney should shut up about BB5…
John: When I saw Tweets late Sunday afternoon that Texans defensive end Jadeveon Clowney had referred to Bortles as "trash," I figured it was a mistake. I then checked and saw a lot of verified, reliable media Tweeted it, so I figured it wasn't a mistake. I then figured it was a just a sad comment by a player frustrated with losing by 38 points after losing to the same team and quarterback by 22 points early in the season. I figured the last part was probably right and I stopped thinking about it.
Jeff from Jacksonville:
Clowney said our quarterback is trash. Sounds like sour grapes from a former two-time division winner getting swept out by the Jags.
John: Bortles is good. Until he plays not good then comments such as the one Clowney made are just sort of silly.
Jeremy from Newport, RI:
If the play of Bortles lately is a preview of how he will play moving forward then go ahead and ink him to a long-term deal right now. There are not even 32 quality starting NFL quarterbacls in the world. If Coughlin and Caldwell believe in Blake then let's get a contract done ASAP.
John: What a difference two months make.
Ricky from San Francisco and Duval:
When Bortles came out of college, a lot of prognosticators said he'd take some time to get things right. That he wasn't a finished project. Could that be what we are seeing?
John: Yes. This also is his first season in offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett's system. He has shown a greater command of that offense by the week. His receivers are now making plays around him. He's a developing player and it's starting to not be surprising when he plays well. Hmmmm….
Jeremy from Newport, RI:
The Jags have been a lot of fun to watch this year! Tell them thank you! I look forward to watching them over the next month and a half! Go Jags!!
John: I'll pass it along.
Stephen from Jacksonville:
Is Jaydon Mickens the best Jaguars punt returner since Reggie Barlow?
John: No. He is the best punt returner in franchise history, including Reggie Barlow. No disrespect to Barlow, but Mickens is becoming a threat to break a long return every play. Barlow was very consistent and was a good returner for a long time. But he didn't pose the every-return threat that Mickens has become.
Dylan from Section 215 and Duval:
Fans gonna fan, but everywhere I go in Duval sporting Jags gear people are hyped. The city is electric! Winning is nice. #DTWD
John: Winning is cool. Fans like it. You know what's really cool? And you know what they really like? The playoffs. Yeah, #DTWD
Cool from Jagstown:
Blake Bortles might actually be a star after all. True or False?
John: Bortles is playing as well as any quarterback in the NFL right now. Witness his seven touchdowns, no interceptions and 903 yards in three December games. Witness the Jaguars' 3-0 record during the same span. Witness his NFL-best 128.6 passer rating during that span. Witness me saying, "Yeah, let's give Bortles his due. The kid may actually be becoming a star."

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