JACKSONVILLE –The Jaguars were better. No debating that.
By any account, what happened Sunday was yards – even miles – better than what happened a week before. But there were a couple of critical exceptions.
One exception was that the Jaguars did not win and winning was what they had to do Sunday.
The other exception is more important.
That exception is quarterback Blake Bortles, who did not play better in a 19-17 loss to the Baltimore Ravens at EverBank Field Sunday afternoon than he did a week before in one-sidedly memorable loss to San Diego.
Bortles is struggling right now. He's struggling in a big way.
And because Bortles is the player expected to be winning games rather than losing them – and because he is the quarterback around whom this team is being built – the Bortles Is Struggling Story is the biggest story. No issue facing this 0-3 team is as important as that.
It's a story he addressed early and often speaking to the media Sunday afternoon.
"We had unbelievable field position and continued to tremendously underachieve as an offense," Bortles said after he threw three interceptions, including two in the fourth quarter of what could have – and should have – been a momentum-altering Jaguars victory. "That's nobody's fault outside of mine, I believe."
That set the tone for Bortles' post-game press conference.
The third-year veteran is nothing if not candid when it comes to his play, and as he has struggled early this season, he has remained strikingly so. His teammates believe in him and have since he entered the starting lineup as a rookie in 2014.
They remained firmly in support of their quarterback Sunday.
"He's a really good player," tight end Marcedes Lewis said. "He's proven that last year. The way he prepares, the way he practices … he wants to do really well. All good players go through what he's going through right now. You have to fight through it. We're going to be there to help him fight through it.
"Adversity is real, and if you let it beat your ---, you stay in that slump."
And indeed, that's where the Jaguars are entering next week's home game against AFC rival Indianapolis at Wembley Stadium in London. They're in a slump that in many ways has been defined by the unexpected slump of Bortles.
His six interceptions this season included five in the last two games. So much went wrong in so many areas a week ago in a 38-14 loss to the San Diego Chargers that Bortles' two interceptions and lost fumbles seemed to mesh with the overall storyline. He struggled mightily, but who didn't?
Sunday was different.
On Sunday, the Jaguars played well enough to win. The defense overall played its best game of the season, and Bortles and the offense hit a mini-stride when he threw two mid-game touchdown passes to Allen Robinson to cut a 10-0 deficit to 16-14. When kicker Jason Myers converted a 49-yard field goal four plays after Denard Robinson fell on Ravens returner Devin Hester's muffed punt the Jaguars had their first second-half lead of the season.
As it turned out, the drive that ended with Myers' field goal was part of the bigger issue that cost the Jaguars a much-needed victory.
The Jaguars gained just eight yards in three offensive plays before Myers' field goal. They started five drives in the fourth quarter Sunday, with three beginning in Ravens territory. One of the drives followed Robinson's muff recovery and the others were after interceptions by free safety Tashaun Gipson and middle linebacker Paul Posluszny.
The last two began at the Ravens 31 and 29. Those ended in an interception thrown by Bortles and in a 52-yard field goal attempt by Myers that was blocked. The Ravens kicked the game-winning field goal eight plays and 20 yards later.
Bortles threw two fourth-quarter interceptions. He was sacked four times, and while the line could have blocked better on a few of the sacks, pocket awareness seemed a concern more often than not.
As always, he took full blame in question after post-game question. He talked about being careless with the ball and overthrowing too many receivers. He talked of needing to throw more quickly at times. The overtone was he must be better. A lot better.
"The plays are there, the calls are there; I think it's really a lot on me and not executing them," Bortles said, also saying, "Guys are tired of being bad. Guys are tired of losing. I thought the defense and special teams played plenty well enough to win, but we didn't offensively and I didn't as a quarterback."
Bortles' sincerity Sunday was evident, just as it was a week before in San Diego. It was evident, too, that he meant it Sunday when he spoke about it being difficult to face teammates after struggling as he did against Baltimore.
He knows, too, he must improve – and fast, because as much as the Jaguars need a victory over the Colts Sunday, they need to see their franchise quarterback playing a lot better.
Until he does there will be a lot more days like Sunday. And there's little debating that.