Blake Bortles doesn’t care that you think he sucks. Why should he? “It’s a waste of time,” says the Jacksonville quarterback. He’s just one win away from playing in the Super Bowl and is set to earn 19 million dollars next year. Life is good. But man oh man, the vitriol sent his way via fellow NFL defenders is rather staggering.
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Bottles has been called a choker by Titans defensive lineman Jurrell Casey, subpar by Seahawks safety Earl Thomas, and Texans edge rusher JaDaveon Clowney trashed the Jags QB by calling him trash. Yet all three of those guys are on vacation while Bortles is still working, preparing for the AFC title game in Foxboro Sunday afternoon.
“He’s a dog,” shouted defensive tackle Malik Jackson in the immediate aftermath of last weekend’s win at Pittsburgh. “I want to know what Jurell Casey has to say about him choking in big moments while you sit at home and watch us next week.”
Jackson’s fiery defense of Bortles is not an uncommon event in the Jacksonville locker room. Yes their quarterback has flaws - we’ll get to those in a minute - but he’s their ride or die, at least for now.
“Blake is a rockstar,” said defensive lineman Calais Campbell. “He doesn’t let any of that get to him. He keeps showing up every day, having fun, preparing as hard as he can. We have a lot of respect for him. He’ definitely loves the game. He handles his business."
“One thing I learned about Blake is when you talk negative about him he proves you wrong over and over again,” said cornerback A.J. Bouye. “He did it against Seattle, he did it versus Pittsburgh the first time, he did it again versus Pittsburgh this time. That’s who he is.”
As you would imagine, that support is everything to Bortles.
“I don’t care much about what is said outside our locker room,” said Bortles. “What I care about is inside that locker room. Those are the opinions I care about. When other people say stuff, it doesn’t bother me. But to see guys in that locker room stand up for me and say stuff, it’s pretty cool. Because those are the opinions I value and the guys I want to impress and do well for.”
Bortles was hardly the star Sunday in Pittsburgh. He barely completed over 50% of his passes one week after running for more yards (88) than he threw for (87) in a Wild Card round win over the Bills. But Bortles didn’t turn the ball over in either game, something that has been a problem for him not only in years past but late in the regular season. Yes, he was inaccurate at times and appeared nervous at others but the Patriots could only shake their heads and laugh when told about the comments other players have directed at the 25-year old.
“It’s kind of crazy,” smiled Devin McCourty, “you know, the guy is still playing football. All those guys that said that, I’m sure they want to be in his spot right now playing in the championship game…the guy is a winner. Whether it’s dropping back and throwing the deep ball in a drive where Pittsburgh cuts it to seven and you need to make a big play and he stays in the pocket and finds [T.J.] Yeldon after surveying the field. Or in other games, against Buffalo, he drops back, they drop into coverage, everybody has their back to him, and he scrambles for 15 yards [and] a big first down to keep the drive going. To me, you see a winner.”
“He’s a good quarterback,” said Duron Harmon. “He does what they want him to do. He checks them, gets them in the right place, makes the right throws. Just try to do his job effectively and he did it at a high level yesterday. Made a lot of plays on third down. Made them with his arm, made them with his feet. He’s obviously somebody who feels comfortable in the system. Plays well and has been making plays for them all year. We know he’s going to come ready to play…”
Hard to believe Bortles is ready to lift the Jags past the Pats all on his own. He needs a good running game, he needs his receivers to make plays for him, and he needs that defense to figure out a way to slow down Tom Brady. That’s a lot to ask, but the Jags with Bortles at quarterback are this close to something few thought possible before the season started, just a win away from a trip to the Super Bowl. Maybe that belief in Bortles is about to be rewarded…