JACKSONVILLE – This is starting to feel repetitive, isn't it?
And if you're the Jaguars, could there be a better preseason feeling than that?
The offensive line was stout. Again.
The first-team offense moved efficiently. Again.
Blake Bortles was good. Again. Actually, he was really good – and through three 2015 preseason games, nothing around the Jaguars is more important.
And as a result, there was a good feeling around the Jaguars following a 22-17 loss to the Detroit Lions in Preseason Week 3 Friday at a soggy EverBank Field. We're not talking ecstasy here. Or satisfaction. Or anything close to those things.
But we are talking about tangible, repeated, obvious improvement on offense.
And what better conversation could there be for this team?
"I think I'm pleased," Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley said. "Again, it's preseason and the game planning will start in a couple of weeks. Teams will look at matchups and try to attack us in different ways, but you give the offense credit for going out there and executing."
A disclaimer here:
Not all of the post-game conversation was all-giddy, all-the-time. In fact, it's fair to acknowledge if you're feeling good about the Jaguars' offense you're probably equally and understandably concerned about the defense.
The major concern entering Preseason Week 3 was the lack of pass rush in the first two games. That area was better Friday – marginally – but the defense as a whole allowed too many first-half yards and quick-strike drives. One drive was particularly quick strike – three plays with a 62-yard touchdown pass from Matt Stafford to Golden Tate – and the Lions' second touchdown drive covered 95 yards in 4:32.
That second touchdown drive made it 14-13, Jaguars, at halftime, but if you think two drives by Detroit overrode what went on offensively for the Jaguars in the first half …
If you think the Jaguars losing the game at the game matters much …
No, in the big picture, this game felt a lot more like a victory than anything else.
One reason was wide receiver Allen Hurns, who caught four passes with a touchdown and was notably sure-handed after a week when drops were an issue for Jaguars receivers. Another was tight end Marcedes Lewis, who has looked good throughout training camp and looks like he could be a factor when new offensive coordinator Greg Olson goes two tight ends.
We're getting to the major reasons now, which means we're getting to the offensive line. The unit looked good in the preseason opener against Pittsburgh. It looked good again last week. The line once again protected Bortles on Friday, not allowing a sack. And while there will be discussion of a couple of plays on which left tackle Luke Joeckel appeared to struggle, the difference in this unit is striking. The line, in fact, would be THE MAJOR JAGUARS STORY OF THE PRESEASON except for one overriding fact:
Bortles is the story of the preseason. Plain and simple.
He had looked good in two preseason games. He had looked consistent and given hope that all of the much-publicized offseason work had yielded results. But with a young quarterback you want to keep seeing the things that give you optimistic feelings, and that was true of Bortles.
Three preseason games may not in the big picture prove all that much more than two preseason games, but it was hard to watch Bortles Friday and not be very optimistic about what you saw.
Confidence. The willingness to stand in the pocket with the rush nearing. The instinct to run at the right time. Accuracy.
"Blake's playing with a lot of good poise right now," Bradley said.
Bortles was asked if he was surprised at the preseason performance of the first-team offense, a unit that now has scored on eight of 11 possessions.
"I really didn't know what to expect," he said. "I knew what I saw in camp and I thought the guys looked really good as a unit. We did some really good stuff in camp and obviously had three opportunities now to showcase that against an opponent. I think every time, the guys have stepped up to the challenge."
Bortles has done the same, and did again Friday. He completed 20 of 29 passes for 245 yards and a touchdown while playing one series into the third quarter. He also rushed four times for 38 yards.
Overall, he just showed an awful lot of good and not a lot of bad.
That's the third time in as many preseason games that has been the storyline, and considering the importance of Bortles to the short-term and long-term growth of this team, that's really the only storyline.
And yeah, that storyline no doubt feels repetitive at this point.
But if you're the Jaguars, could there be a more important preseason feeling than that?