Jaguars have 'critical evaluation to do' in order to upset Steelers with Blake Bortles' suspect arm

Eric Adelson

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – It’s never a great sign when the best quarterback at a playoff game is watching from the television booth.

Perhaps it crossed CBS broadcaster Tony Romo’s mind during Sunday’s ponderous 10-3 Jacksonville Jaguars win over the Buffalo Bills what life would be like if he played here in Duval County. He could hand off to Leonard Fournette on the weekend and sneak away for nine holes during the week.

Jags head coach Doug Marrone has other things on his mind after Sunday’s AFC wild-card game, like how his offense is going to score enough to beat the talent-rich Pittsburgh Steelers next week in Pittsburgh. Marrone has brought the team a long way, leading the franchise to a playoff victory in its first home postseason game since 2000. That’s the good news. The bad news is there’s no way the Jags will advance to the AFC title game with this kind of offensive inertia.

Blake Bortles completed 12 passes for 87 yards in Sunday’s Jacksonville victory. (AP)

“I’d be a fool,” he said, “to say I’m not concerned.”

Quarterback Blake Bortles called it a “weird” day and admitted there was no groove other than a 15-play touchdown drive that needed four downs near the goal line to result in the game’s only touchdown. Perhaps his best play all afternoon, other than the game-winning pass to seldom-used tight end Ben Koyack at the back of the end zone, was when he fumbled a snap in the fourth quarter and then bolted around the left end and 26 yards up the sideline as a frustrated Bills coach slammed his clipboard to the ground in anger. Bortles grinned as he walked back to the huddle. It was the third-longest play all day for Jacksonville.

“We weren’t able to sustain drives the way we wanted to,” offensive lineman Patrick Omameh said. “We weren’t able to move the ball the way we wanted to. We came away with the win, the defense put forward a tremendous effort, but we have some critical evaluation to do.”

Bortles ran for more yards (88) than he threw (87), which is an indictment of both the passing and running games. “You see Blake had more rushing [yards] than me,” Fournette quipped. “That will tell you a lot.” He had only 57 yards on 21 carries.

“As the season went on,” Omameh said, “teams really started to load the box against us. If that’s something we don’t want defenses to do, we have to hit them multiple ways.”

That’s a lot tougher without wideout Allen Robinson, who is out for the season with an ACL injury he sustained in Week 1. The Marrone offense isn’t dynamic to begin with, and then add the fact that the Jags only have one star to showcase – a rookie rusher who has had trouble with injuries this season.

Yes, the Jags went to Heinz Field early in the season and trashed the Steelers, 30-9, but they picked off Ben Roethlisberger five times and scored twice on defense. Jacksonville’s defense is still that good, maybe better, but it’s unlikely the Steelers will be that sloppy this time around. That means Bortles and Fournette will have to do more.

The Bills bottled up Leonard Fournette in a losing effort, holding the rookie to 57 yards on 21 carries. (AP)

“We stuck with our big personnel, ran some play-action and got some openings there,” offered backup quarterback Chad Henne. But Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell will also have “some openings” next week, even against the Jags’ suffocating defense.

There will be plenty more talk in the months to come about the Jags’ quarterback situation. It won’t be lost on many here that Jimmy Garappolo went 59 picks after Bortles in the 2014 draft, even though the team hardly struck out by choosing Robinson one pick before “Jimmy GQ.”

Do the Jags draft another QB? Do they try to rope in former Tom Coughlin quarterback Eli Manning?

In his defense, Bortles is a cat with nine lives. During the preseason there was speculation he was done in Jacksonville, as Henne had a shot to win his job. It went back to No. 5, however, and he had a much better year than last. His most impressive stat: 19 touchdowns in the red zone this season against no interceptions.

Despite all the heat he takes, Bortles can deliver from close range. The question is, can Fournette and Co. get him there?

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