I’m going to ask a question, and please don’t panic. Don’t throw anything. Don’t puke. Don’t call the CIA or the Russians. Stay calm and cool. But you might want to sit down first.
OK, you ready? Here we go. (Inhale deeply)
Could Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles actually be…good?
I know, I know, it’s a hard one to wrap your head around. But he has the Jags at 5-3 and has thrown twice as many touchdowns (10) as interceptions (five) thus far.
“He’s transformed his game in a short period of time,” said an AFC team official. “He looks like a different quarterback.”
Of course, some remain unconvinced.
“It’s still hard to trust him,” said one NFC team official.
And so here we are.
Bortles has been one of the most disappointing players in the NFL, as I’ve written before. The consensus around football in recent years was that Bortles wasn’t just bad; he was holding back the entire franchise.
Something has happened this season, however, and it’s impossible to ignore. In fact, it’s inspiring.
No, Bortles hasn’t morphed into Tom Brady, and, yes, he’s still a highly flawed thrower. There’s also clearly some hesitation from the Jaguars to completely trust Bortles. With a vibrant running game and the NFL’s third-stingiest defense, Jacksonville doesn’t ask Bortles to take a lot of chances, and he doesn’t. Heading into Week 10, he’s tied with Andy Dalton for the third-fewest throws of 20 or more yards, according to ESPN’s NFL Matchup.
What’s also true, however, is that Bortles has gotten less sloppy with the football. He’s showing slightly better mechanics, and the trust from his teammates in the locker room is growing.
I told you to sit down.
Bortles remains a subject of fierce debate throughout the league. He’s still polarizing among some of the teams I speak to, though he isn’t as divisive as Cam Newton.
The pro-Bortles crowd says it’s hard not to see the improvement. The anti-Bortles crowd says he’s the same guy, he’s now just better-protected, his flaws hidden by the Jaguars’ play-calling and rookie running back Leonard Fournette.
Bortles still deserves credit. He’s done what some other quarterbacks—cough, Jay Cutler, cough—have refused: adapt and learn. You can see it when watching him play.
Bortles has completed 59.4 percent of his passes for 1,657 yards this season. His performance against the Bengals on Sunday was indicative of his ongoing turnaround. He threw for 259 yards and a score with no turnovers or sacks. Yes, the Bengals aren’t good, but the old Bortles still would have tossed two pick-sixes.
Before the game, league miscreant Vontaze Burfict said the Bengals wanted Bortles to try to beat them.
“I’m not sure Blake can…” he said. “We want to put it in his hands and have him beat us, if he can.”
With Fournette suspended for the game, Bortles went out and did just that. It wasn’t Bortles who lost his head but the Bengals, as A.J. Green MMA’d Jalen Ramsey.
“Somebody showed me it, and that’s fine,” Bortles said of Burfict’s comments after the game. “Cincinnati has a bit of a reputation for the type of guys they are, and I think you saw a little bit of that today.”
Bortles also spoke about his role, and it was refreshing.
“I feel good,” Bortles explained. “We are a running team first. There is no secret about that. I think everybody knows it, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have the ability to throw the ball. We run the ball because that is what we are the most effective at. That’s how we can control the game and control the clock, keep the other offense off the field, so that’s what we do and we are good at it.”
“When there are times that we need to throw the ball,” he added, “we are good at that, too.”
In some ways, this is a simple story. Bortles worked hard to get better. The Jaguars didn’t quit on him, and he didn’t quit on them.
In an often complicated sport (and world), simple can be good.
Could Bortles go Bortling again and toss those dunderheaded passes defensive backs dream of? Of course. But for now, that isn’t happening.
So, back to that question.
Is Bortles actually good?
Right now, the answer is yes, no matter how hard it is to believe.
Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @mikefreemanNFL.