SAN DIEGO, Calif. – The Era began.
Win or lose, that was the story for the Jaguars Sunday, wasn't it?
Isn't this what everyone wanted? Isn't this the moment for which we – those who cover the team, those who follow the team and those with even the remotest interest in the short- and long-term future of this franchise – waited?
Wasn't a Blake Bortles start what we all wanted to see?
Of course, it was, and the moment came Sunday. It came on a perfect Sunday afternoon in Southern California. It came with the Jaguars struggling to start the 2014 season, and it came after an offseason of waiting and a week of buildup.
And when it came on Sunday, it looked like …
Well, it looked pretty darned good, was how it looked.
It didn't look great. It wasn't magic.
The Jaguars didn't win.
But it did look good – and it looked like something that bodes well for the future.
Bortles on Sunday started an NFL game for the first time, completing 29 of 37 passes for 253 yards in a 33-14 loss to the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium.
All of those statistics are fine. They tell the on-paper story.
Here's the story that matters:
It looks more and more, week by week, game by game and even play by play that Bortles is going to at the least be a very good NFL quarterback. And yes, perhaps a great one. It's too early to tell the latter, but the former becomes clearer each time Bortles steps onto the stage.
The preseason hinted at it. The second half of a loss to the Colts last week did, too.
Sunday there were more hints. There was more of the poise, the pocket presence, the knack for creating plays. He feels the game. That much is evident.
It was fair to wonder entering the game if Bortles could handle the moment. It's fair to wonder that about any rookie quarterback.
If any Jaguars players were wondering, they got the answer early.
"He was calm out there," Jaguars offensive guard Zane Beadles said. "They threw a lot of pressure at us early and he handled it well. I definitely expected them to bring some pressure knowing we have young guys (offensive line) up front and a young guy at the quarterback spot.
"They did and we handled it well. He settled it down."
Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley's post-game assessment was the same. The positives for Bortles' first start, Bradely said, were the same as they had been in his previous appearances.
Poise. Managing the huddle. Taking control.
"I thought he did a great job of that," Bradley said.
The negative was what it was against Indianapolis the week before, and what it will be a lot this season. Decision-making is where young quarterbacks falter in a faster, better, more experienced league. Bortles threw two interceptions against Indianapolis last week. He threw two Sunday, and on each it appeared the defensive back read a rookie quarterback, broke on the ball and made an NFL play.
"We talked about, 'It's all about the ball,' but he'll learn from that," Bradley said.
There was evidence Sunday that Bortles already is learning. On one play in the second half, Bortles scrambled from pressure and ran right. He looked downfield, but instead of throwing to the middle of the field – a decision that resulted in an interception against Indianapolis – he waited and threw to tight end Clay Harbor, who turned the play into a 30-yard gain.
"Just learning from mistakes is something you have to continue to do," Bortles said. "Those are things that I'm sure 15-16 year NFL guys still do. You watch the film, learn from what you did and try not to do it again."
Bradley also was asked how Bortles handled the moment.
"No doubt, he was ready for it," Bradley said.
Indeed he was. He completed eight consecutive passes at one point in the first half. He made plays where players with lesser field vision would have taken sacks or thrown incomplete passes.
And yes, the team played better around him.
That's what you kept hearing all week. That was the theory that started as a whisper and grew to a buzz this past week, that there was something about the kid that made guys around him play better.
The Jaguars for a while Sunday looked like a different team. For the first time since halftime of the regular-season opener, they looked like a functioning NFL offense with the outcome of a game in doubt. They converted 5 of 7 third downs in the first half. They had 200 yards to 206 for San Diego. They had 12 first downs to nine for San Diego. This wasn't the lopsided, wrong-sided statistical sheet of Week in Washington or Week 3 against Indianapolis.
This was competitive. This was improvement.
Shoot, this was even fun to watch.
It didn't last. The defense in the second and third quarter did what it has done too often this season, and the offense lulled enough to allow the more-experienced better quarterback to pull away. That was expected Sunday and it will happen again this season.
The second-half struggles and the defensive breakdowns were a story from Sunday, but they weren't The Story.
The story was quarterback. That's what we wanted to see, and because the kid again showed what he has been showing for a month, that it wasn't perfect mattered not a bit.
He was good. He has a chance to be great.
And nothing bodes better for the future than that.