FOXBORO, Mass. — Talented defenders around the NFL have said some pretty mean things about Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles this season. The New England Patriots aren’t climbing aboard the Bortles bashing bandwagon.
Houston Texans defensive end Jadeveon Clowney famously (and hilariously) called Bortles “trash.” Tennessee Titans defensive tackle Jurrell Casey said Bortles chokes under pressure. Seattle Seahawks safety Earl Thomas labeled Bortles as “sub-par.”
All of those jabs seemed believable as recently as this summer. NFL training camp kicked off with Jacksonville media laughing at the amount of interceptions Bortles was throwing. There were whispers Chad Henne (Chad Henne!) could start at QB for the Jaguars this season. Now, here we are, three days away from Bortles starting in the AFC Championship Game. What a world we live in.
Patriots safety Devin McCourty made an astute observation Wednesday, however: None of Bortles’ bullies are playing conference championship weekend. Bortles is.
“All those guys that said that, I?m sure they want to be in his spot right now playing in the championship game,” McCourty said. “But I?ve seen some of his interviews, and he seems like he has a great attitude, laughing about it and cracking jokes. And I think you kind of see that out on the field — the guy is a winner. …
“A quarterback that is smart and makes all the right plays. When he is out there, he?s trying to put the team in the best situation, and it shows up. I think you can throw out stats and you can do all that stuff, but at the end of the day, the only thing anybody cares about is winning, and obviously his team is playing in the AFC Championship.”
Bortles helped lead his team to a 10-6 record this season, with an additional two playoff wins. He has been a winner this year. That hasn’t been the case in years past, when the Jaguars went 11-34 with Bortles under center as a starter.
One of the biggest knocks on Bortles throughout his career has been his tendency to turn the ball over. That’s happened just once in two playoff wins. He’s thrown for just 301 passing yards in two games, but Bortles has two touchdown passes, no interceptions, 123 rushing yards and one lost fumble.
“He’s a good quarterback,” Patriots linebacker Marquis Flowers said. “He’s another guy that can make plays happen with his feet, throw the ball and he can make big plays.”
That Bortles has led his team to 12 wins kept coming up in New England’s locker room this week.
“The media and all the other team guys can talk about how ?trash? he is, but he?s beaten teams,” cornerback Eric Rowe said. “Obviously he?s a good scrambling quarterback, he has an arm, he has receivers and he?s in the championship, so obviously he?s a great player. You can?t be ?trash? and be in the championship game.?
Patriots linebacker Kyle Van Noy seemed to almost take the comments personally.
“How can you say he’s trash when he’s won games?” Van Noy asked.
“He’s in the NFL. It’s not easy to get here, so to say someone else is trash is — I don’t know. I wouldn’t do that, because I know what I’ve put in to work. I would never say something like that.”
Rookie Adam Butler, wise for his 23 years, took it one step further, warning that the Patriots could set themselves up to be embarrassed if they believe Bortles is as bad as some of his critics say.
“This is the National Football League, and that’s them taking someone for granted, and you can’t do that,” Butler said. “There’s been plenty of teams who have done that. There’s been plenty of instances already. You take a team for granted, and they’ll hit you in the mouth. So, we’re definitely not going to take that approach.”
The Jaguars might believe the Patriots are just giving Bortles lip service, that they’re saying all the right things to the media but singing a different tune behind the scenes. That might have been true as recently as midway through the 2017 season. But after a QB wins two playoff games, including one against the Pittsburgh Steelers, it’s smart to start taking that player seriously, history be damned.
Bortles is not elite. He might not even be the fourth best quarterback in the playoffs (all three Vikings QBs are pretty good). But the Patriots are right.
“Not trash,” Patriots safety Duron Harmon said this week.