JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Aside from there being some 60,000 screaming fans in the stands, what Blake Bortles pulled off in the closing minutes of the Jacksonville Jaguars’ victory over the New York Giants last Sunday was no different from the things he has done in closed practice settings when it’s time for him to run their two-minute drill.
It was also not far removed from what he accomplished in a near-empty stadium in Philadelphia last November as a junior at UCF when the Knights’ dream season was in danger of collapsing against Temple.
Critics can claim that the statistic about Bortles becoming only the third rookie quarterback since 1970 to lead a team to bring a team back from a 21-point deficit is misleading, since two of the Jaguars’ touchdowns were scored by their defense. But being able to complete four of five passes for 39 yards and run twice out of the shotgun formation for 31 yards with the game on the line, while overcoming two penalties against the offensive line in the process, is anything but insignificant in the eyes of Jaguars offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch.
"Three minutes and 26 seconds left, down two (points), they’ve got to find a way. And I think it’s awesome for him to build off of," Fisch said Wednesday as the Jaguars began preparing for their upcoming game against the Houston Texans.
"The guys didn’t flinch, didn’t bat an eye or freeze up in the moment," said Bortles, whose passing set up a 43-yard field goal by Josh Scobee with 28 seconds remaining.
This wasn’t the first fourth-quarter scoring drive that began at the Jaguars’ 20-yard line led by Bortles season. But except for a nine-play, 83-yard march at Tennessee when they trailed 16-7, all of the previous ones came with the 2-10 Jaguars down by three touchdowns or more.
And it was the first where Bortles, who now leads all AFC quarterbacks in rushing yards with 296, took advantage of his mobility as much as his arm strength.
"I don’t know if I’d say it helps me get in a rhythm, but I enjoy doing that stuff," he said. "I think it’s fun. I think it’s part of playing quarterback. It’s part of playing football. And it adds a dimension to the offense that the defense has to account for."
It certainly caught the attention of veteran tight end Marcedes Lewis, who was playing in only his second game since Bortles took over for Chad Henne 10 weeks ago.
"Everything is a rhythm," he said. "And when we do all those zone read plays, he’s always ready for the next play. Whatever it is, I like it when he runs the ball."
Bortles was held under 200 yards passing for the second game in a row. But he ran for a career-high 68 yards, although a combination of those carries and him getting sacked seven times by the Giants left him with a sore right shoulder and left ankle. The ailments weren’t enough to prevent him from taking part in full pad workouts Wednesday.
Of the seven sacks, Jaguars coach Gus Bradley said several were due to Bortles holding on to the ball too long or running back Denard Robinson being a step slow protecting him in the pocket.
"It’s hard to say, ‘OK, I’m just going to throw the ball into the ground,’ " said Bortles, who has been sacked 34 times in all. "But it’s something you have to be able to do as a quarterback when there’s nothing there, rather than try to make a defensive end miss who’s really more athletic than I am."
Bortles still has occasional footwork problems with his three-step drop and has had a high number of passes batted down for a 6-foot-5 quarterback. Though he’s coming off his first interception-free game of the season, he flirted with one before halftime when he tried hitting wide receiver Cecil Shorts III in triple coverage in the end zone.
But the goal expressed by Fisch after the bye week to have Bortles cut down on his interceptions over the final six weeks appears to be attainable.
"There were good things and bad things. It was kind of the story of every week," Bortles said of the win over the Giants. "There’s good things to keep building on and bad things to improve on."
The loss of right tackle Austin Pasztor for the rest of the season with a ruptured hamstring will further test a line facing the formidable task of trying to contain end J.J. Watt and the Texans, who lead the NFL in takeaways with 28.
"He’s somebody you definitely have to pay attention to and account for," Bortles said. "But we’re looking forward to the opportunity. We’ll attack not only him but their defense, and we want to execute and do positive things."
"We’re going against a team that majors in takeaways," Fisch said. "So we’ve got to do a great job of protecting the ball, both run and pass, in order to have that success."