SPORTSTALK: THE JAG-OFF

SOMETHING LIKE PROGRESS: WEEK 4, JAGS VS. CHARGERS

If you look closely enough, you can see signs of life

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And so begins the next New Era in Jacksonville Jaguars football, with Blake Bortles getting his first NFL start. Irrational exuberance is the watchword: I know of at least one person who benched Aaron Rodgers for Das Wunderkind in fantasy football, in what was an exercise in wish fulfillment writ large. (If that’s a money league, buddy, I want in next year).

The start of the game, despite a Toby Gerhart fumble 12 seconds in, was encouraging. Bortles’ passes were crisper than fresh celery, taking advantage of strong line play in the first couple dozen plays. He had the time to make reads, which resulted in a nine-completion, 83-yard first quarter; also, Denard Robinson looks to be learning the running back position, even taking over some inside runs (which may be preferable to leaving that duty to the motorless Gerhart). The defense had yet to be exposed, yet.

Small victories, right?

Jags fans sat and waited for the collapse, but Bortles kept them in the game until the second half. Deep to Allen Hurns, then a TD toss to a dude they just picked up from the Saints practice squad. If it were up to Bortles and our scrapheap wideouts, the Jags would have won. But the outcome this week was determined by that festering wound we call a pass defense.

The secondary, with or without the concussed Dwayne Gratz, is not NFL caliber. Probably, with some coaching and acclimation, they could function reasonably well in the Canadian Football League. Maybe not. The issue, after all, is coverage, and Canadian fields are even bigger, with even more open space.

Down 10, the Chargers began to jump Bortles' routes. The second half was ugly, yes, with Keenan Allen looking like J-Smooth in his big game against the Ravens —catching bombs from the Chargers QB. 

Despite the obliteration of the third quarter, the Jags were only down 13. Compare that to the Colts catastrophe or the can of whoopass the Washington Racistnames opened on them, and it does feel something like progress. Even the scrum between Andre Branch and King Dunlap of the Chargers showed fire. 

During the first two and a half games, if the Jags had been characterized by the title of a William Faulkner novel, they would've been As I Lay Dying. Now? The Sound and the Fury. They are overmatched at more positions than not, and they are still finding their identity, but they are improving, and the Bortles pick looks legit — more so than the Luke Joeckel selection, a capital-B Bust like so many other first-round misses.

With the Pittsburgh Steelers coming to town after losing a trap game to Tampa Bay, the Jags will face motivated opposition next week. Will the secondary contain the Steelers' quick young wideouts? If that happens, and Bortles continues to improve, the losing streak may end at four, disappointing the Steeler faithful that will fill the stands and pee in the pools

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