Blake Bortles is a 6-foot-5, 236-pound roadblock standing between the Patriots and the U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. The Jacksonville Jaguars’ fourth-year quarterback led his team to a 10-6 record and the AFC South title in the regular season, then past the Buffalo Bills and Pittsburgh Steelers in the first two rounds of the playoffs. On Sunday in Foxborough, Bortles will face his toughest test of the season on the biggest stage of his career. Here’s what you need to know about the Jaguars’ No. 5:
Bortles had to beat out Chad Henne for the starting job this preseason
It seems an age ago as the Jaguars prepare for an AFC Championship matchup, but Bortles wasn’t the set-in-stone starter heading into training camp. Bortles split time with Chad Henne during the preseason and Henne even started the third game in August, an indication of which way the coaches were leaning. But Bortles eventually beat out Henne for the starting nod and secured his position with a 29-7 win over Houston in Week 1. Bortles completed 60.2 percent of his passes this season as he threw for 21 touchdowns and 3,687 yards. His stats as a whole land him right in the middle of the pack for NFL quarterbacks, but he’s done enough to outscore the opposition twelve times this season, a task made easier by a Jaguars defense ranked fifth in the league in points allowed. To his credit, he delivered 45 points when the defense faltered and gave up 43 last week against Pittsburgh.
The Patriots might be the first team to give him the respect he deserves
Until this playoff run, no one in the National Football League outside of the Jaguars locker room seemed to respect Blake Bortles. Jacksonville beat the Seahawks 30-24 in December. After the game, Seattle safety Earl Thomas said that his team had just lost to a ‘subpar quarterback.’ The next week, Bortles threw three touchdowns as the Jaguars smashed Houston 45-7. That margin of victory wasn’t enough to convince Texans defensive end Jadeveon Clowney that Bortles was a proper NFL quarterback. Reporters asked him about the Jacksonville QB postgame, and Clowney replied, “He’s trash.” Like the rest of the criticism Bortles has received over the course of his career, Clowney’s comments went in one ear and out the other. “If how we’re playing and how I’m playing is trash,” Bortles said. “Then I’m fine being trash.” The Patriots won’t give him any more bulletin board material ahead of Sunday. Defensive coordinator Matt Patricia said Bortles’ ability to scramble and his athleticism make the Jaguars offense a ‘very dangerous group.’
Bortles’s family hears the criticism even if he doesn’t
Blake might be immune to the barrage of less than constructive critiques he’s faced over the years, from fellow players to Senator Ted Cruz to an entire Twitter account dedicated to ironic Bortles facts (“Blake Bortles is undefeated in 194 countries.”), but his family can’t help but hear. “I’d love to — I’d love to,” Rob Bortles told The Ringer when asked if he’s ever tried to talk to Blake’s critics.“We’ve talked about it. I’d say, ‘I’m gonna drive over and talk to this guy,’ and we have a family conversation and then we’ll say, ‘We’re gonna leave it alone,’ and I say, ‘OK, makes sense.’” Blake’s father also said that his son isn’t affected by the negative noise. “It’s on the news, but he doesn’t care or doesn’t let himself be bothered,” Rob said. “There are a lot of people who would’ve folded and gone away but that’s just not in his makeup.” Blake isn’t the only professional athlete in the family. His brother Colby was drafted by the Detroit Tigers in the 22nd round of June’s MLB draft. Colby Bortles, a third baseman, led the Ole Miss Rebels last year with 10 home runs and 42 RBIs.
Bortles was a three-star recruit and played for his local college team
Coming out of high school in Oviedo, Florida, Bortles was labeled a three-star recruit and chose to attend the first school to offer him a scholarship, which happened to be a ten-minute drive away. In three seasons at the University of Central Florida, Bortles threw for 7, 598 yards and 56 touchdowns. In 2012, as a sophomore, Bortles led his team to a 38-17 victory in that most storied of NFL pipelines, the Beef O’Brady’s Bowl. In his junior campaign, Bortles and the Knights finished the season 12-1, won the AAC Championship, and defeated Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl. Bortles declared for the draft after his junior year and was taken third overall by the Jaguars, behind Jadeveon Clowney and Greg Robinson.
There’s still no guarantee he’s the Jaguars quarterback of the future
The Jaguars picked up Bortles’s fifth-year option for next season, and that option will become fully guaranteed on March 14. But the team would be on the hook for $19 million once that deadline passes, and it remains to be seen whether the Jacksonville front office has seen enough from Bortles over his four-year career to commit to him long-term. As Dan Graziano wrote, the Jaguars have three options for handling his contract situation: sign him to an extension, let him play next season on the option and make a decision afterward, or let him walk. The third option seems ever more unlikely with every playoff win, but the team could turn back to the draft or chase a veteran like Kirk Cousins on the free agent market. Either way, Bortles has come along way in the five months since this headline ran- ‘Blake Bortles’ contract may force Jaguars to go with Chad Henne’.