JACKSONVILLE – This isn't a story about statistics.
It's not about potential or mechanics, either, although when it comes to Blake Bortles this season there is plenty to discuss when it comes to all three of the above.
Bortles has the first two, and appears to have improved the third. But while all three are pertinent when discussing the Jaguars' second-year quarterback, they're not really THE pertinent topic. Not now.
The pertinent topic right now is whether Bortles has shown he's the guy.
He hasn't. Not absolutely, inarguably. But he is oh-so-much closer to doing so now than he was two months ago. He's passing the smell test, and the eye test. And that's what matters for now.
How much Bortles has improved this season is still debated by some. Some point to interceptions, inconsistency or won-loss record and wonder if he will be elite.
The debate doesn't extend inside the Jaguars' locker room. When teammates speak of Bortles, they speak of belief.
And when it comes to Bortles, teammates have plenty.
"No doubt about it," middle linebacker and nine-year veteran Paul Posluszny said. "Especially for a second-year guy, he has just shown the poise, the leadership, the confidence … we trust him. Regardless of what happens, where we're at in the game, we trust that he's going to play to the best of his abilities."
What you wanted from Bortles this season was progress.
You wanted clear signs the No. 3 overall selection the Jaguars spent in the 2014 NFL Draft was equity well-invested.
You wanted to see he was not a bust.
It wasn't reasonable to expect to look at Bortles by season's end and to know absolutely beyond doubt that he would be elite. When the Jaguars selected him 18 months ago, they knew he would be a longer development process than that.
But it was reasonable to expect clear signs that he could be elite, and that he was working toward it.
Without question we have seen that.
Images from Wednesdays practice as the Jaguars prepare to face the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium in Week 9.
We have seen that statistically, with the Jaguars scraping and clawing their way out of the bottom of the NFL rankings on the strength of a Bortles/Allen Hurns/Allen Robinson triumvirate that is the most promising trio of young skill players the franchise has had since … well, since ever.
We have seen that in the eye test, with Bortles showing the pocket presence he showed as a rookie with more consistent production peppered in.
And yes, we say "peppered" for a reason. The pick-sixes that were troublesome last season have been equally so this season. And Bortles' interceptions still have a maddening tendency to be costly ones. Too, there, are the long stretches of ineffectiveness, the most recent of which came in the victory over the Bills in London just before the bye. Three second-half three-and-outs kept the Jaguars from securing the victory before Bortles' third pick-six of the season gave the Bills a late 31-27 lead.
But here's the thing about Bortles: All of that stuff we just mentioned?
The three-and-outs? The pick-sixes?
While they remain part of Bortles' story, and while they remain areas that must be smoothed out and sanded down, that stuff no longer feels like the major stuff.
That's because the major stuff – the stuff gives him a real chance to be the guy – is what happened after the pick-six against Buffalo. Bortles didn't lose faith, and perhaps as importantly, teammates didn't, either.
They believed they would win, which they did after Bortles led a go-ahead drive and after the defense clinched it by holding the Bills on downs.
And perhaps as importantly, they believed in Bortles.
"He's just resilient," defensive tackle and seven-year veteran Roy Miller said. "He makes mistakes, but he's competitive. He makes more positive than negative. You can tell he's hungry; he wants to do his best. When you've got a guy like that, who's humble about the whole situation but willing to put the work in, everybody falls in behind him, especially at the quarterback positon.
"We believe in him, 100 percent."
Miller was asked if that was the case with every quarterback.
"I've been on teams where you don't believe in the guy," Miller said. "It's tough to play defense behind him. You just pretty much playing, hoping things go well. With Blake, you know at some point things are going to turn. That's a good situation to be in for a defense."
You can't fake that, and draft status doesn't guarantee it. It's earned, and Bortles is earning it. To hear teammates tell it, he's remarkably far along in that process.
That matters a whole lot more than mechanics, potential or statistics, and around the Jaguars right now, maybe nothing matters more.
Yes, this team is remarkably, improbably and even a little strangely in the playoff hunt. But for the long term, whether or not Bortles can be elite is still the dominant storyline.
His teammates absolutely believe he will be, and already believe in him as a leader.
On that front, the season already has the look and smell of success.