JACKSONVILLE – This was a good start. A very good start.
The Jaguars on Saturday night looked really good early offensively in their second preseason game, and that gives this preseason a really good early feel …
Wasn't that what we said about the first preseason game? Wasn't the postgame theme in the preseason opener pretty much all-gushing-all-the-time over the Jaguars' dynamic first-quarter offense?
Wasn't the first-team offense the story nine days ago?
Yes, yes, yes … and if all those yesses add up to similar familiar post-game analysis for Preseason Week 2 as for Preseason Week 1, that's OK. Actually, it's more than OK.
It's the best news this team could receive midway through the preseason.
"I think it shows the amount of work guys have put in, mentally and physically being on top of things," Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles said after the Jaguars' first-team offense scored touchdowns on two of its first three possessions in a 27-21 loss to Tampa Bay at EverBank Field Saturday.
"We've talked about starting fast for a long time, and I think we're finally showing we can do that. Hopefully, we can maintain that."
How to put this start to the preseason in perspective?
First, remember this indeed is preseason. Just as there is no reason to panic over the penalties the Jaguars have compiled in eight preseason quarters – and just as it's incorrect to panic when the defense struggled at times after the first team leaves the game – there's no reason to call the Jaguars' offense elite.
An offense can't become elite in preseason, and even if it could, we only have five series of preseason evidence. That's a small sample size.
But oh those five possessions …
That's the second part of providing perspective on the preseason. No, the preseason is not the ultimate measure of an offense, but as far as this team this season, those five possessions are the only test. Consider the test passed. Actually, consider it more than passed.
While the final score is not important in the preseason, how a game feels is – and the feeling comes from the starters and front-line players. The theme from Saturday is the first-team offense because the first-team offense controlled the game – and because this first-team offense is the critical story facing the short-term development of the franchise.
Is Bortles ready to control games? Can he make a necessary Year 3 jump from being statistically dazzling to winning and effective?
Can the running game control the game?
Can the offensive line be effective?
Can the offense dictate play?
Photos from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. the Jacksonville Jaguars in week two of the preseason.
All of those questions remain unanswered after last season despite the unit's remarkable improvement, and all are crucial questions entering this season. Through two preseason games, the signs are good.
Bortles and the first-team offense have scored three touchdowns on their first five preseason series. The two non-touchdown drives? A drive that would have ended in a touchdown against the Jets if tight end Julius Thomas had made a makeable catch for a touchdown and the first drive Saturday, a possession that started with the Jaguars facing 1st-and-21 at their 11 after a penalty on the Jaguars' coaching staff.
The team talked all offseason about starting fast. Not only has the offense started fast it has done so in the manner it wanted. It has run effectively, utilizing both T.J. Yeldon and Chris Ivory. Bortles has been protected well. He has made good decisions. He has utilized multiple offensive weapons.
Wide receiver Allen Robinson? Wide receiver Allen Hurns? Ivory?
All have looked as they are supposed to look, with Robinson continuing to develop into an elite receiver, with Hurns continuing to be reliable and productive – and with Ivory looking every bit the lower-the-shoulder runner the team expected when they signed him as an unrestricted free agent from the New York Jets in the offseason.
Mostly, Bortles has looked like a maturing quarterback. Three preseason touchdown passes. No preseason interceptions. Four preseason incompletions. A lot of preseason good decisions. Not a lot of noticeable bad ones. The touchdown pass to Hurns Saturday? When he looked off Robinson on a double move and threw a perfect pass to Hurns in the end zone?
That's not a pass he makes as a rookie because it's not a play a young quarterback sees. He's seeing it now, and that's not just good for the development of this franchise. It's critical.
Is he elite? No, not yet, but he is showing the "it" factor more consistently each time he plays. Bradley put that factor into words late Saturday night.
"He just made some plays tonight," Bradley said. "He's just got a really good understanding right now. He's making good decisions. We just have to keep the arrow going up for him."
Is Bortles looking the part? Is he doing everything he can to make you believe he is the right guy? Is he having as good a preseason as could be imagined?
Yes, yes, yes – and because of all of those yesses, that gives this preseason a really good early feel.