JACKSONVILLE – This is what we all wanted, even if we knew there'd be days like this.
Remember? When we all said, "Play the Kid?"
Remember when we said (and you said it, too … yes, you did) that whatever happened – whatever came with a rookie quarterback, whatever the growing pains – we were OK with it … because it meant hope and seeing the future?
Remember when we all said that about Blake Bortles?
This is what we wanted, everyone from media to fans, and this is what it means. It means errors, and means games lost that might have been won, and no question that was the storyline Sunday when the Jaguars lost to the Miami Dolphins, 27-13, in front of 65,633 at EverBank Field on a sunny, perfect Northeast Florida afternoon.
"I'm killing us," Bortles said after the game.
That was it. That was the quote you'll see most tweeted from a game the Jaguars controlled statistically for a half, the quote you'll see most discussed from a game the Jaguars' defense dominated for the better part of a half and into the second.
In a sense, Bortles was right.
He played poorly Sunday, poorly enough to overshadow that defensive performance. He overshadowed, too, another impressive day from running back Denard Robinson.
A throw across his body in the second quarter while rolling left turned into an 81-yard interception return for a touchdown for Dolphins safety Louis Delmas.
A fumble in the second quarter when he could have slid turned into a fumble recovery for Delmas at the Jaguars 23.
A throw across the field to his right turned into a 22-yard interception return for a touchdown for Dolphins cornerback Brent Grimes.
It looked like it sounds.
It looked like a young player trying to figure things out, trying to learn what works and what doesn't, trying to learn the speed of the game.
You know what it really looked like?
It looked like a rookie quarterback playing before he's completely ready.
In other words, it looked exactly how it's supposed to look.
Remember? In August and September? When Bortles was thrilling fans and practically causing riots outside EverBank to "Play the Kid?" Remember how Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley kept playing Chad Henne, how he kept talking about Henne giving the team the best chance to win and how he kept talking about wanting to give Bortles time?
There was a reason coaches started Henne for so long – because for all of the positives Bortles brought there was also the undeniable fact he was a rookie not quite ready for prime time.
Now, if all of that sounds worrisome, let's calm those nerves because it's not. We knew there would be days like this, and the front office and coaching staff knew there would be days like this, and handling days like this and the coming days was a major topic when Bradley spoke to the media late Sunday afternoon.
Bradley talked about Bortles' confidence, and said he's not worried about the rookie losing it. He also said Bortles continues to do a lot of the good things that prompted the Jaguars to move him into the starting lineup Week 4.
At the same time …
"To make mistakes is human but to make them repeatedly that's where you have to take it out of your game," Bradley said. "Those things we have to challenge him on. We challenge our whole team on things like that whether you're a rookie or not it doesn't matter, there's an accountability to it."
That's strong stuff for Bradley, and it should be strong stuff, because it's hard to win when your quarterback commits three turnovers, and it's really hard when those turnovers turn into 14 defensive points.
At the same time …
Well, at the same time, perspective is needed. This is his fifth NFL start, and while Sunday was painful, it also was not atypical of the NFL quarterback growing process.
Here's what Sunday was: a loss that may be attributed to the rookie quarterback.
Here's what it wasn't:
A sign that he's not the guy, or that he can't develop into the guy. He still very much can, and all signs are that he will. The Jaguars locker room believes it, and it's what support remained strong for the rookie on Sunday evening.
"Blake's a tough kid, a hard worker," Jaguars wide receiver Cecil Shorts III said. "We all trust and believe in 'Five.' He'll be fine. You guys say he had a bad day… I don't know. That's my quarterback, so I'll never say he had a bad day. I'll say me as a receiver, and the offense, we have to do more for him.''
Bortles afterward was as he has been after all five starts. He answered questions, and deflected no blame. This growth process isn't a heck of a lot of fun, but he has handled it well.
"I've got to just try to limit turnovers," he said.
There was a certain determination in his voice, he spoke in much the same way he carries himself, with the poise of his position, and while days such as Sunday are tough, it's easy to see why Bradley says he doesn't worry about Bortles' confidence.
No, this still looks very much like a kid with a bright future, even on days when the present is rough. Even on days when it's difficult to remember that when you "Play the Kid" it also means signing on for a few days that aren't a lot of fun.