The Jacksonville Jaguars lost to the Detroit Lions on Friday evening 13-12, but the real story out of the game was the play of rookie quarterback Blake Bortles. Bortles has faced a new challenge every week in the preseason and every single time he's answered the bell.
On Friday evening, due to the flow of the game, Bortles entered in the second quarter with just under two minutes left in the game. He promptly marched the team down the field while under pressure, pushing the ball down the field and picking up chunks of yardage.
"It was cool to be able to go out and start out of the two-minute situation," Bortles told reporters after the game. "We actually had a two-minute drill that we had some backed up situations, so I mean to get those opportunities and those scenarios, they're great learning experiences and I think we did a good job."
In 10 plays, including a near interception on a poor throw, Bortles quickly moved the Jaguars from their own five yard line to the Lions 16 yard line. They might have had a legitimate shot at a touchdown had the officials not mistakenly whistled dead a fake spike play, but all-in-all Bortles did exactly what you want in the final two minutes before halftime. He drove down the field and put points on the board.
"With only two minutes, we were able to come up with points before the half and did a good job on a couple backup situations - getting the ball out of there, so those are definitely good things."
There has been an argument for the Jaguars to speed up the process on when Bortles would be considered "ready", the team's public requirement for when he will making his way into the starting lineup, but with each preseason game the definition of ready seems to get more puzzling.
Immediately following the game, Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley fended off questions about the starting quarterback position and seemed to squash them by saying that Chad Henne is still the starting quarterback for Week 1 against the Philadelphia Eagles.
From OTA's through training camp until Friday night, Bortles has shown a rapid progression in each game. The definition of "ready" seems to be bizarre at this point, because the performances of Bortles and Henne aren't close to the same. While the argument that Bortles was facing backups, which should put some cold water on his hot performances, was legitimate at one point, that's no longer the case. On Friday night Bortles went out with the first team against predominantly starters on the Lions offense and looked natural.
"It was definitely similar. There's obviously a little bit of speed difference and stuff like that but for the most part, it was pretty much the same," Bortles said after the game about playing with the first team offense. "You run the same football plays, you're still playing football. It's just with the ones rather than the twos."
Each time that Bortles has had to make that jump to let the coaching staff see where he is in his progress, he's knocked it out of the park. In the Jaguars scrimmage he made plays, made some mistakes, but overall looked good. In the first preseason game he did a nice job and made a few "wow" throws. Against the Chicago Bears he came out on fire and made some more "wow" throws on national television. Then on Friday evening against the Lions he ran out with legitimate NFL players, facing adversity in both field position, time and pass rush and passes the test.
We've seen Bortles make a play out of nothing, when things break down around him. We've seen him audible, multiple times, into a better play that resulted in success. Bortles touchdown pass to Allen Hurns on Friday night was one of those audibles. He's stood in the face of the rush, he's completed passes down field and he's fit the ball into windows only a few in the NFL can.
I'm not sure what else needs to be there for the Jaguars to determine that Blake Bortles is "ready" and given how it's played out for both Gus Bradley and Dave Caldwell so far, I'm inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt. At this point however, it seems like rolling out with Chad Henne is just cutting off your nose to spit your face. Though, Bradley isn't going to make a decision on changing the starting quarterback minutes after a game finishes without going back and watching the film.
Sure, you know exactly what you're going to get with Henne as your starting quarterback, but that's the inherent problem. He's still Chad Henne. Does he still give your team the best chance to win? What, specifically, is Bortles going to learn now sitting on the bench?
What does Chad Henne do better than Blake Bortles, right now?