Bur­dened Bor­tles boosts Jack­sonville


The Denver Post - - AROUND THE NFL - By Mark Long

jack­sonville, fla.» Blake Bor­tles ad­mit­tedly felt all the pres­sure of Jack­sonville’s lofty pre­sea­son ex­pec­ta­tions.

Know­ing the stakes in­cluded pop­u­lar coach Gus Bradley’s job, Bor­tles played tight all sea­son. He tried to do too much and then even more when losses mounted.

“I put way too much of it on my shoul­ders,” Bor­tles said. “Prob­a­bly way more than any­body else.”

Bor­tles was fi­nally able to let it go af­ter Bradley was fired last week. And he re­sponded by play­ing his best game of the sea­son, maybe even his ca­reer.

In a game when Ten­nessee lost start­ing quar­ter­back Mar­cus Mar­i­ota to a bro­ken right leg, Bor­tles threw for 325 yards and a touch­down — he also was on the re­ceiv­ing end of a 20-yard trick play with 5:25 re­main­ing. The Jaguars ended a nine-game los­ing streak with a 38-17 vic­tory against the Ti­tans on Satur­day.

“I just wanted to prove that he did the right thing by draft­ing me,” Bor­tles, who com­pleted 26-of-38 passes and won for the first time when throw­ing for more than 300 yards, said of Bradley.

Bor­tles and the Jaguars played in­spired foot­ball from the open­ing kick and won for the first time this sea­son at EverBank Field. Their last vic­tory at home came Dec. 13, 2015, against In­di­anapo­lis.

They ral­lied around in­terim coach Doug Mar­rone. They played for Bradley, who was awk­wardly fired six days ear­lier. And they avenged an em­bar­rass­ing loss to the Ti­tans on na­tional tele­vi­sion in late Oc­to­ber.

“We showed that this is who we are,” de­fen­sive tackle Sen’Der­rick Marks said. “I think the whole ‘play­ing for Gus, play­ing for Doug’ thing was cool at the be­gin­ning. But it was gone once we took the field. It was a pay­back mo­ment. They straight-up em­bar­rassed us on na­tional TV. We got a se­cond chance to play them and did what we had to do.”

The out­come cre­ated a lot of head­scratch­ing and thoughts of “Where has this been all year?”

“Man, I don’t know. I re­ally don’t know,” said rookie cor­ner­back Jalen Ram­sey, who re­turned an in­ter­cep­tion 30 yards late and set off a rau­cous — and long-awaited — cel­e­bra­tion in Jack­sonville. “What I do know is Gus is def­i­nitely a part of this.”

It was a de­ba­cle for the Ti­tans, who had won three in a row. Ten­nessee needed a win to set up an AFC South ti­tle game next week­end against Hous­ton. But now, coach Mike Mu­larkey’s team needed the Tex­ans to lose at home to Cincin­nati later Satur­day to stay in the divi­sion race.

The Ti­tans’ des­tiny might not even mat­ter be­cause Mar­i­ota is out for the sea­son.

Mar­i­ota broke his right leg late in the third quar­ter, with Ten­nessee trail­ing 25-10. Rookie Shel­don Day sacked Mar­i­ota as he scram­bled on first down, grab­bing him around the an­kles. Mar­i­ota sig­naled to the sideline as he pounded the ground. Train­ers rushed to his side, put on the air cast and lifted Mar­i­ota onto a cart. Team­mates and even some Jaguars pat­ted Mar­i­ota on the shoul­ders be­fore he ex­ited.

“That breaks my heart, man,” Ti­tans of­fen­sive tackle Taylor Le­wan said. “Love him. That guy’s an awe­some dude. For that to hap­pen to him, it’s un­fair.”

Jour­ney­man Matt Cas­sel re­placed Mar­i­ota and com­pleted 13-of-24 passes for 124 yards, with a touch­down and an in­ter­cep­tion. His 14-yard score to De­lanie Walker made it 25-17, but Jack­sonville an­swered on the en­su­ing drive. Cas­sel will be the starter the rest of the way.

“Cas­sel is a guy who’s been around a long time and has won a lot of games,” Ti­tans run­ning back DeMarco Murray said. “He’s the next guy up and he pre­pares every sin­gle day, every sin­gle week like he’s the starter, so I know he’ll be ready to play.”

The Jaguars lost both run­ning backs, with T.J. Yel­don (an­kle) and Chris Ivory (ham­string) leav­ing the game. Ti­tans cor­ner­back LeShaun Sims left with a con­cus­sion.

The Jaguars’ Jalen Ram­sey, left, and Josh John­son cel­e­brate af­ter a de­fen­sive stop dur­ing the first half of Satur­day’s game against the Ti­tans. Rob Foldy, Getty Images

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