AFC South: Jacksonville Jaguars

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- On paper, it looks like Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles played poorly against the Tennessee Titans at EverBank Field on Thursday night.

He completed just 13 passes for 115 yards, both the lowest totals of his rookie season.

Those numbers, though, don't truly capture everything Bortles did to help the Jaguars beat the Titans 21-13 in front of 61,202 and a national television audience. On paper, he wasn't good. On the grass, he was.

After the Jaguars' offense managed just 16 yards on its first four possessions, Bortles sparked a pair of touchdown drives sandwiched around the halftime break to rally the Jaguars from a 10-0 deficit and send them to their third victory of the season. He did it with his legs as much as his arm, an impressive feat considering there was some doubt that he would even be on the field.

[+] EnlargeBlake Bortles
Sam Greenwood/Getty ImagesBlake Bortles crossed up the Titans on the ground, running for 50 yards to help the Jaguars to their third victory.
"That’s that 'it' factor, man," receiver Cecil Shorts III said. "That’s why he went third overall. He's got that 'it' about him. When you really need it, he's going to make the play, he's going to find a guy, he's going to do what he needs to do.

"You’re only going to see him continue to get better and better and better."

Bortles was limited in practice all week because of a right midfoot sprain, which he suffered on a sack during the fourth quarter of Sunday’s 20-12 loss to Baltimore. Coach Gus Bradley wasn't sure Bortles would be able to play against the Titans until he watched the rookie go through a workout on the field several hours before the game. Even though Bortles was cleared to play, he was expected to be limited in terms of scrambling and running the ball.

Nobody told Bortles this, though. The No. 3 overall draft pick from Central Florida played the way he has all season -- he ran bootlegs, he scrambled away from pressure and he carried the ball on a couple of zone-read plays as well.

"If I was able to play, I was going to go play like I know how, like I do," Bortles said. "I wasn't going to go out there if I couldn't run around and move and help the offense at all."

For a while, he wasn't helping, but he wasn't alone. The Jaguars had just 16 yards on their first 14 offensive snaps. Bortles completed four of eight passes for 10 yards in that stretch and was sacked twice, including one on which he was hammered by linebacker Derrick Morgan and fumbled.

But things changed on the fifth possession, which began at the Jacksonville 20-yard line with 3:46 remaining in the first half. Bortles completed five of seven passes for 42 yards and a touchdown and also had a 9-yard scramble to convert a third-and-9. Three plays later he found tight end Marcedes Lewis for a 4-yard touchdown.

Bortles was even better on the first possession of the second half. He hooked up with Marqise Lee for a 34-yard reception on third-and-7 and also ran for 12 yards on a third-and-goal from the 14. The Titans were penalized for holding on the play, giving the Jaguars a first down at the 1-yard line.

Bortles also had a 19-yard scramble on third-and-12 later in the third quarter, finishing with 50 yards on five carries.

So much for limited mobility.

It was a gritty performance, especially from a rookie who is still adjusting to the speed of the game, learning to read defenses and playing behind an offensive line that has allowed a team-record 66 sacks.

"We've known this whole time he's a tough guy," left tackle Luke Joeckel said. "We watch him play. He’s a hard-nosed guy. He takes some hits and he pops right back up. We knew going in this game he was a little bit limited, but he didn't show it at all and he made plays.

"He's got that confidence and he's got that ability. He's a great leader and he's fun to follow. As an offensive lineman, you love to follow guys that go out there and just compete."

It wasn't pretty, and anyone just looking at the box score will call this one of Bortles' worst games. In reality, it was probably one of his best. He was struggling, and the offense was struggling, but he came through when it mattered most. We saw that against the New York Giants, when he led the Jaguars on a game-winning drive, and we saw it again against the Titans.

"You know you're going to have games like this and you're going to win," Bortles said. "I couldn't be happier to be a part of it. Some things are going to happen and you're going to win games when you throw for 400 yards and you lose some as well. So it’s part of it. I'm just glad we won."
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- A few thoughts on the Jacksonville Jaguars' 21-13 victory over the Tennessee Titans at EverBank Field.

What it means: The Jaguars' offense finally showed some life Thursday night, and it was a long time coming. The Jaguars entered the game against the Titans with just two offensive touchdowns in their last four games and spent their first four drives looking like they were playing with only eight men on the field. The offensive line gave up two sacks while the Jaguars totaled just 16 yards. But things turned on their final possession of the first half. Quarterback Blake Bortles started scrambling and making plays, running back Toby Gerhart pounded out some tough yards, and receiver Marqise Lee and tight end Marcedes Lewis made a couple of big catches. The 80-yard drive ended with Bortles' 4-yard touchdown pass to Lewis. The Jaguars went 72 yards for another touchdown on their first possession of the second half. Those two drives were the best the offense has looked since before the bye week in mid-November.

Stock watch: If this indeed was the last home game for receiver Cecil Shorts, he didn't exactly go out with a bang. Shorts caught two passes for 15 yards and he and Bortles just didn't seem to be in sync at all. Bortles targeted Shorts seven times, and at least three of those passes appeared to be catchable. Granted, a few would have been tough, but as the only veteran receiver on the roster he needs to make those catches. Shorts did have a key catch to convert a third down on the Jaguars' clock-eating final drive to preserve the victory, though. He will be an unrestricted free agent after the season and his chances of re-signing aren't good unless he's willing to accept a deal for significantly less money than he'd like.

Big swing: The Jaguars opened up a double-digit lead -- haven't been able to write that sentence much this season -- on a two-play sequence. The defense stopped the Titans on fourth-and-2 by forcing quarterback Charlie Whitehurst to throw short of the first-down marker, and running back Jordan Todman went 62 yards for a touchdown on the next play to put the Jaguars ahead 21-10 with nine minutes to play.

Game ball: Bortles' numbers weren't great (13-of-26, 115 yards, one touchdown), but he did ignite the offense late in the first half by making plays by running (a 9-yard scramble on third-and-9) and hitting some key throws. He ended up rushing for 50 yards on five carries.

What's next: The Jaguars finish the 2014 season at Houston on Dec. 28.
video When: 8:25 p.m. ET, Thursday. Where: EverBank Field, Jacksonville, Florida TV: NFL Network

The Jacksonville Jaguars-Tennessee Titans game on Thursday night certainly doesn't have playoff implications. Not with both teams at 2-12.

But the game does mean something. It's a race to avoid finishing in the AFC South cellar and jockey for draft position. The Jaguars and Titans are two of four 2-12 teams and one 3-11 team (Washington) battling for the No. 1 draft pick.

In a way, it's probably better to finish last in the division because that team would end up with a home game against the last-place AFC West team in 2015 -- which is the 2-12 Oakland Raiders. Finishing third in the division would mean a game against either Kansas City or San Diego.

ESPN NFL Nation Titans reporter Paul Kuharsky and Jaguars reporter Michael DiRocco break down the matchup:

DiRocco: We talked earlier this season about Jake Locker. Now I'll ask about Zach Mettenberger. Has Ken Whisenhunt seen enough to know if he's the QB around which he can build the offense?

Kuharsky: We don't know. They got six starts from Mettenberger before he suffered the shoulder injury that meant he'd watch the final three games from the sideline. He showed progress in many areas and fits the Whisenhunt mold -- big guy, big arm, not going to scramble around, will stand in the pocket and face down pressure. But they didn't see him in the fourth quarter of a close game and he was unable to help engineer a win. He and the offense were horrifically bad on third down.

What are the alternatives? They could be in position to draft Marcus Mariota or Jameis Winston. But Mariota's ability to run is a big element of his game, and Whisenhunt doesn't like that. And Winston has a lot of baggage. The free-agent market is always weak. Good quarterbacks get re-signed. Heck, Locker could be the second-best guy coming free.

I think Mettenberger is probably the starter on opening day, but they need to get some reasonable alternative on the roster.

Blake Bortles has been sacked 46 times and thrown 17 picks to go with 10 TDs. The supporting cast is poor, but what else is behind the poor rookie season?

DiRocco: The first thing is to remember that the Jaguars did not want to play him in 2014 and were forced to because the offense, aside from the first half of the season opener, was non-functional with Chad Henne. That being said, Bortles has footwork issues, doesn't make decisions as quickly as he needs to at times and also tries to do too much instead of making the easy play. In short, he's behaving like 99 percent of rookie quarterbacks.

All of those are fixable problems and the No. 1 task in the offseason will be fixing his footwork. He did not get good coaching in this area at Central Florida and it was one of the main reasons the Jaguars did not want him to play in 2014. One coach told me that when Bortles uses the proper footwork -- when he takes the proper drop, when his feet are in the proper position, when he steps into the throw correctly -- the ball leaps out of his hand and he's very accurate. When he doesn't, however, the ball floats and he's not as accurate.

You did hit on another big reason for his struggles. The Jaguars just aren't very good along the offensive line and have had to rely on five rookies in the starting lineup on offense. That's not a recipe for good football.

Was Whisenhunt caught a bit off-guard by how much of a rebuild he was facing? It seems like a lot of us expected the Titans to be better than this (I did) and not locked in a battle for the No. 1 pick.

Kuharsky: He was asked after the Week 4 loss in Indianapolis whether he might have overestimated what he inherited and he said maybe. It's an answer he regretted, because it fueled questions about his ability to assess other things. I thought the Titans would be closer to the Jaguars than to the Colts, but I saw seven wins against a bad schedule. They've lost to some really bad teams and look to be far, far away from being relevant. There are a load of contributing factors, but Whisenhunt's been too stubbornly committed to his systems rather than bending more to what the roster offers.

This is the one look most of the country gets at the Jaguars and EverBank Field this season. Will people see anything to suggest the Dave Caldwell-Gus Bradley regime is making progress? The record doesn't suggest it.

DiRocco: Bradley was asked about this on Monday, because at 2-12 there doesn't seem to be any progress made in Year 2. His response was that he's seeing significant improvement in some of the young players, such as right guard Brandon Linder, center Luke Bowanko, receiver Marqise Lee and Bortles. That isn't correlating to unit progress, though. So while some of the young offensive linemen are better players now than they were in October, the line isn't playing any better.

There isn't much progress on defense from last season in terms of stats. The passing and rushing yardage allowed is similar, but the Jaguars have seven more sacks this season than in 2013. The unit has done a better job of keeping the Jaguars in games, and had the offense not turned the ball over against Pittsburgh, Tennessee and Miami, the Jaguars could be sitting at five victories right now.

The Titans are one of the few teams that have forced fewer turnovers than the Jaguars (18). What has been the biggest reason the defense can't get takeaways?

Kuharsky: The secondary has a tendency to be in position but allow catches, so those guys are often two significant steps away from grabbing an interception. The pass rush is lacking so it doesn't force quarterbacks into bad throws very often. And it's a poor tackling defense, which has trouble getting guys to the ground, gang tackling and stripping the ball loose. Teams have run 49 percent of the time against the Titans, which seems to reduce the chances of taking the ball away.

Sen'Derrick Marks wasn't wanted by the Titans when his contract expired. He seems to rate as a foundational piece for the Jaguars. How has he done and is he a big piece of their plan?

DiRocco: Marks is indeed one of the building blocks on defense, which the Jaguars proved by signing him to a four-year extension last December. He earned that deal by playing the best football of his career (4.0 sacks, 33 tackles, eight pass breakups). What's impressive about Marks is that he's been even better after he signed his four-year, $22 million deal. He is playing at a Pro Bowl level, though he'll have to get votes from the players and coaches to make the squad. He has 39 tackles and 7.5 sacks, which is a half-sack shy of earning him a $600,000 performance bonus. That many sacks from an interior lineman is unusual and shows just how dominant he has been in his second season in Jacksonville. The Jaguars recently signed defensive tackle Roy Miller to a four-year extension, locking up their two defensive tackles for at least three more years.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Jacksonville Jaguars' 2014 season has obviously been disappointing. A 2-12 record, just two offensive touchdowns in the last four games, and nine losses by double digits is proof of that.

But there is one thing that could make it even worse: Losing to Charlie Whitehurst twice.

No offense to the 32-year-old Tennessee Titans quarterback, who has made just seven career starts, but at one point this season he was the Titans' No. 3 quarterback behind Jake Locker and Zach Mettenberger.

That's a bit befuddling. Whitehurst couldn't beat out one of the bigger first-round quarterback busts of the last decade and a rookie sixth-round pick to be the Titans' starter, but he was able to beat the Jaguars. Whitehurst threw for a career-high 233 yards and didn't turn the ball over in the Titans' 16-14 victory in Nashville, Tennessee, on Oct. 12.

"He's mobile in the pocket and he did a good job of keeping it away from us," defensive coordinator Bob Babich said. "He was very accurate. He threw the ball away when he got pressure and didn't throw panic throws into coverage. I thought he played game smart."

That was the first victory for Whitehurst as a starting quarterback since he was with Seattle and beat St. Louis 16-6 on Jan. 2, 2011. He has thrown for 1,772 yards and eight touchdowns with six interceptions in nine seasons with San Diego, Seattle and Tennessee but didn't throw a pass in the regular season for the first four years of his career.

Whitehurst has never scored more than 17 points in any game he has started and has completed more than 13 passes in any game in which he has played just twice.

As well as the Jaguars have played defensively the past month, it would be discouraging to let Whitehurst put up good numbers again. The Jaguars held Andrew Luck to 68 yards below his average, returned two fumbles for touchdowns against the New York Giants, held Ryan Fitzpatrick to 135 yards passing, and held Joe Flacco to 220 yards and Justin Forsett to just 48 yards rushing.

The Jaguars are already fighting for respect. Losing again to Whitehurst and the 2-12 Titans at home on national television won't help.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- All indications are that Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles is going to play in Thursday’s game against Tennessee, but coach Gus Bradley is waiting one more day just to be sure.

Bradley said Wednesday that he’s leaning more toward playing Bortles, but wants to see how the rookie’s sprained right foot handles a light workout several hours before kickoff before he makes a final decision.

"I thought Tuesday to today [Bortles looked] much better, but we just need to see him move around even better," Bradley said after the team’s light walk-through. "[Bortles has] progressed much faster than we anticipated and I think that’s what we’re down to now, just to see how he moves around. Another day, I think, will benefit him."

Bortles suffered the injury during the Jaguars’ 20-12 loss at Baltimore last Sunday. It came when he was chased down by linebackers Pernell McPhee and Terrell Suggs for a 10-yard loss midway through the fourth quarter. That was the seventh time Bortles was sacked. He limped off the field but remained in the game and was sacked once more on the Jaguars’ final drive.

The 6-foot-5, 230-pound Bortles has thrown for 2,676 yards and 10 touchdowns with 17 interceptions and needs just 143 yards and four touchdown passes to surpass Bryon Leftwich’s rookie records in those categories. Leftwich threw for 2,819 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2003.

In other Jaguars injury news, defensive end Andre Branch (groin) and linebacker Khairi Fortt (hamstring) are out. Defensive end Chris Clemons (knee) and receiver Marqise Lee (elbow) are probable. Defensive end Ryan Davis (hip pointer), safety Josh Evans (foot), and receiver Tommy Streeter (abdomen) are questionable.

QB snapshot: Blake Bortles

December, 16, 2014
Dec 16
A quick observation of quarterback Blake Bortles and how he played in the Jacksonville Jaguars' 20-12 loss in Week 15:

Bortles was sacked eight times against Baltimore on Sunday, and coach Gus Bradley said three of those were because Bortles held onto the ball too long. That seemed high, because watching the game on tape, it's obvious that the sacks that came up the middle (two by defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan) were definitely the responsibility of the offensive line. One sack resulted when rookie running back Storm Johnson was tasked with blocking linebacker Terrell Suggs.

Bradley said the Jaguars called a lot of three-step drops because of the Ravens' pass rush (Elvis Dumervil entered the game with 16 and Suggs had 8.5), but Bortles didn't get rid of the ball quickly. Instead of throwing it away when the receivers were covered he tried to scramble or took too long trying to find a second option, and that resulted in a sack.

"You look at it and there’s some three-step drops in there where they covered us pretty well," Bradley said. "The line is cutting and those are types you look at Blake and say, 'You’ve just got to get rid of it.' I think in Blake’s defense is he’s made some plays happen after there’s been a breakdown when he gets out of the pocket, and he made a big play to [Allen] Hurns yesterday doing that. I think at times when it’s not right there he’ll try to extend the play, and a couple of times yesterday that got us in trouble with some sacks."
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Considering the beating he has taken, it’s somewhat of a surprise that it took this long for Jacksonville Jaguars rookie quarterback Blake Bortles to be in jeopardy of missing a game.

Bortles has been sacked 46 times in 10 games and regardless of how much responsibility he bears for some of those sacks, it’s still a pretty good pounding for the 6-foot-5, 230 pounder to have endured. He finally got hurt on the 45th, which came midway through the fourth quarter of the Jaguars’ 20-12 loss at Baltimore on Sunday.

[+] EnlargeBlake Bortles
Tommy Gilligan/USA TODAY SportsBlake Bortles has taken more sacks than 29 NFL teams have allowed this season.
Bortles suffered a right mid-foot sprain and the Jaguars said he is questionable for Thursday night’s home game against Tennessee.

"It’s part of football," Bortles said of the sacks. "A lot of them are on me. Some are on the offensive line. It’s on the whole offense. It’s football, so you better be used to getting hit."

Bortles has been sacked a lot. More, in fact, than 29 NFL teams. Only Washington (53) and San Francisco (49) have allowed their quarterbacks to be sacked more. The Jaguars have allowed an NFL-worst 62 sacks -- Chad Henne was sacked 16 times in 10 quarters -- and are just one sack shy of the team record of 63 (2001).

Yet Bortles has been able to avoid injury. He has been on the weekly injury report in the past two weeks for a right shoulder sprain and an ankle sprain but has been a full participant in every practice and listed as nothing worse than probable on the Friday injury report.

That changed when he was chased down by linebackers Pernell McPhee and Terrell Suggs for a 10-yard loss with seven minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. That marked the second time Bortles was sacked on back-to-back plays on Sunday. He limped off the field but remained in the game and was sacked once more on the Jaguars’ final drive.

Bortles was in a protective boot after the game but stood at his locker without it and answered questions on Monday. He put it on shortly after.

"It feels OK," Bortles said. "Been in all morning doing rehab, doing all kinds of stuff, trying to get back and ready as quick as possible. So a couple more days and hopefully it’ll be fine."

Coach Gus Bradley said Bortles’ availability for the Titans game depends on how quickly his foot responds. Running back Denard Robinson suffered a mid-foot sprain last week and was shut down for the remainder of the season.

Bortles said he’ll do everything he can to play on Thursday night because finishing out the season means a lot to him.

"I think Brett Favre’s record of consistent games started I think is one of the most important records," he said. "Your teammates knowing you’re going to be there week in and week out is something that means a lot."

Bradley said Bortles’ No. 1 improvement in the offseason needs to be quickening his decision-making. Some of the pounding Bortles has endured this season has been because he’s holding onto the ball too long instead of making a quick throw or throwing it away when there’s nothing available. Bortles admitted the same thing.

Even though he has been battered a lot this season Bortles isn’t jittery or bailing out too soon because of the rush. He’s not looking down at the rush instead of going through his reads the way former Jaguars quarterback Blaine Gabbert did after he was sacked 40 times as a rookie in 2011.

"You're the quarterback; you're going to get hit. I don't know how else to say it," Henne said. "You either take it or you don't. If you are the one that looks down on the rush, you're not going to last in this league long. I don't think Blake's doing that. I think he's doing some really good things, trying to get outside the pocket, trying to extend plays.

"It is a learning curve to throw the football away."
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- When the Jacksonville Jaguars released running back Justin Forsett last March, he thought his career was finished.

 He was hoping for a shot with another team, but the former California standout was beginning to make plans to go into player development to help players with off-field issues, whether it be personal or family matters. He fielded calls from several teams, but the only one that showed serious interest was the Baltimore Ravens.

He signed with the team in early April. Eight months later, after a string of circumstances that included Ray Rice’s suspension, he’s the second-leading rusher in the AFC and the frontrunner to win the league’s Comeback Player of the Year award.

"Even though it was tough, probably the darkest moment in my career to this date," Forsett said. "I loved what I went through because it made me a better man. I appreciate what I have now so much more because of the hurt and the pain that I may have gone through down there. I couldn’t replace the lessons that I learned."

The hurt and pain were physical. He suffered a toe injury early in training camp and missed the entire preseason and wasn’t completely healthy until Week 2. He was used sparingly, running six times for 31 yards and catching 15 passes for 82 yards in nine games before breaking a bone in his foot and finishing the season on injured reserve.

It wasn’t a surprise that the Jaguars released him, and he said he has no hard feelings against the organization.

"I love [coach] Gus [Bradley]," Forsett said. "Even through the hard times he was there encouraging me, lifting me up. Of course I would have loved to be there for the rebuilding process and be a part of the organization, but [they] saw otherwise and I ended up here in the great place."

At first it didn’t seem as if Forsett had ended up in a better place. Though Ray Rice was suspended indefinitely when Forsett signed with the Ravens, Forsett said the general feeling was that he would return at some point this season. Bernard Pierce was the starter but got benched after two games and Forsett took over.

He has rushed for 1,080 yards and eight touchdowns and caught 37 passes for 234 yards. From 2008-13 Forsett rushed for 1,692 yards and eight touchdowns with Seattle, Indianapolis, Houston and Jacksonville.

Still, that’s good production considering he averaged 4.9 yards per carry for those teams. He just was never in a situation where he got a lot of work. He split time with Julius Jones in '09 and played behind Marshawn Lynch in 2010-11. He was behind Arian Foster and Ben Tate in 2012 and Maurice Jones-Drew in Jacksonville as well as being injured in 2013.

"I felt like my whole career, when given an opportunity, I’ve had success. The opportunities came few and far between," Forsett said. "Just being patient and keeping the faith and continuing to work in the shadows allowed me to hone in and perfect my craft. It had its benefits for me when I waited, but I wish it would have come to me sooner."

Bradley was in Seattle for three seasons when Forsett played for the Seahawks from 2008-11 and said he knew Forsett was capable of having the kind of success he is having in Baltimore.

"I really liked him in Seattle," Bradley said. "I really liked what he was all about and what he brought to the locker room and what he brought as a player. It was just an unfortunate situation he got injured here, so it took some opportunities away from him. I couldn’t be happier for him that he’s doing well."

Andre Branch out again

December, 12, 2014
Dec 12
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Jacksonville Jaguars defensive end Andre Branch is going to sit out his sixth game of the season because of a groin injury.

Branch originally injured his groin in the Jaguars' victory over Cleveland on Oct. 19 and missed the next four games. He returned to the field for the Jaguars' game against the New York Giants on Nov. 30 and re-injured his groin and missed last week's game against Houston.

Branch has 14 tackles, three sacks and two forced fumbles in eight games.

In addition to Branch, reserve linebacker Khairi Fortt (hamstring) also will miss Sunday's game against Baltimore.

Defensive end Chris Clemons (knee), running back Toby Gerhart (ankle), quarterback Blake Bortles (right shoulder), safety Josh Evans (finger), and linebacker J.T. Thomas (ankle) are listed as probably on Friday's injury report.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- It’s possible to find a winter wonderland in Florida. All you have to do is pop into the Jacksonville Jaguars’ offensive line meeting room at EverBank Field.

The room is decorated from floor to ceiling for Christmas, complete with a construction paper fireplace, gift wrap all over the walls and multicolored lights. And, of course, a tree. It’s not Christmas without a tree.

[+] EnlargeJaguars meeting room DiRoccoThe door to the Jaguars' offensive line meeting room.
"We told them we needed a winter wonderland and they delivered," left guard Zane Beadles.

The "we" are the veteran linemen. The "they" are the rookies. It’s tradition for the rookie offensive linemen to decorate the meeting room for the holidays. They did it at Halloween as well and filled it with fake spiders and a big bowl of Halloween candy.

But the group of rookies -- Brandon Linder, Luke Bowanko, Josh Wells and Tyler Shatley -- really went all out for Christmas. They hit Wal-Mart for decorations and came in early on the Monday after Thanksgiving to decorate.

A description will have to do because Beadles declined to allow me inside to take photos. The faux fireplace, which Wells made, sits at the front of the room. Every single inch of wall space is covered in gift wrap, dotted with bows. In addition to the tree, there’s a wreath and stockings. The lights are strung across the tops of the walls.

On the front of one of the doors to the room is a giant sheet of wrapping paper and a sign of red poster board that reads "Winter Wonderland."

"They did a great job," right tackle Sam Young said. "Really, we just asked for a tree and they went above and beyond the call of duty."

[+] EnlargeLuke Bowanko college house
Courtesy of Luke BowankoJaguars offensive lineman Luke Bowanko and his college roommates at Virginia loved to decorate for Christmas.
Bowanko lived with eight other football players in a house while he was playing at Virginia, and they always decorated the outside of the house for Christmas. So there was no way he was going to let the rookies just throw up some lights and a couple pictures of Santa Claus and call it a day.

"I have a history with Christmas and it’s important to go all out," he said.

Beadles, the team's oldest lineman in his fifth NFL season, and the rest of the veterans loved it.

"I thought they did a great job of it," he said. "The holidays is always a fun time around the NFL and around meeting rooms. You always try to make it fun for each other. That’s the best decorating job I’ve ever seen."
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks is the lone Jacksonville Jaguars player having a Pro Bowl season but you wouldn't know it by the fan voting results.

 As of Wednesday afternoon, Marks doesn't rank in the top 10, but he still has a chance to make the team because fan voting is only one-third of the formula. The players and coaches also vote so if Marks receives enough votes in those categories, he could make the roster.

Fan voting is skewed anyway because most fans vote for players on their favorite teams regardless of the kind of season those players are having, which naturally favors teams with bigger fan bases. That certainly hamstrings Marks.

He's definitely deserving. He's having a career season with a team-high 8.5 sacks -- second among defensive tackles in the league (Buffalo's Marcell Dareus has 10) -- to go along with 38 tackles, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery, and one pass breakup. More than half of his 15.5 career sacks have come this season, and it's unusual for a defensive tackle to approach double digits in sacks and to lead his team in that category.

Here's a look at the top 10 vote-getters at defensive tackle as of Wednesday afternoon, provided by the NFL:

Marcell Darius (Buffalo): 242.622
Stephen Paea (Chicago): 242,327
Ndamukong Suh (Detroit): 189,102
Muhammad Wilkerson (NY Jets): 176,224
Gerald McCoy (Tampa Bay): 146,981
Sheldon Richardson (NY Jets): 130,783
Jurrell Casey (Tennessee): 124,076
Henry Melton (Dallas): 96,944
Vince Wilfork (New England): 88,654
Dontari Poe (Kansas City): 83,129
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- This was supposed to be Cecil Shorts' breakthrough season.

He began the season as the only Jaguars receiver with more than 32 career catches. Three rookies made the team, including an undrafted free agent, so whichever quarterback played was probably going to rely heavily on the most experienced pass-catcher on the roster.

Plus, this is the final year of Shorts’ four-year rookie contract, which provided some extra motivation to put up big numbers on the field so he could put big numbers in his bank account.

Despite those advantages, Shorts has been a huge disappointment in 2014. He has just 40 catches for 419 yards, and outside of two games has had little or no impact – except for a costly turnover and a key drop in games the Jaguars had chances to win.

[+] EnlargeLouis Delmas
Phelan M. Ebenhack/AP PhotoJaguars wide receiver Cecil Shorts could be seeing hopes of a big contract extension disappear.
Not only has Shorts’ season all but ended his chance of getting a significant second contract done before the season ended, it might keep him from returning to the team that drafted him in the fourth round in 2011. The Jaguars are likely going to let Shorts hit free agency and test the market the same way they did with Maurice Jones-Drew last season.

"That’s out of my control," Shorts said. "I don’t even think like that. Do I want to be here? Yeah, so we’ll deal with that when the offseason comes, but right now we’ve got three games left so just trying to focus on Baltimore and try to get a little upset going."

Shorts on pace for 52 catches, his lowest total since he caught just two passes as a rookie in 2011. His 10.5 yards-per-catch average is by far the lowest of his career. He had two big games, totaling 15 catches for 220 yards against Tennessee and Dallas, but otherwise hasn’t had more than 41 yards receiving in his eight other games.

He’s also had some bad moments at critical times. He fumbled at the Tennessee 10-yard line late in the fourth quarter in a game the Jaguars lost 16-14 when Josh Scobee’s 55-yard field goal was blocked with three seconds remaining. He also had two drops in the Jaguars’ 27-13 loss to Houston last Sunday, including one on a crossing pattern that could have gone for big yardage early in the fourth quarter.

Meanwhile, the three rookies have outperformed him. Allen Robinson leads the team in receptions (48) even though he has been out for the season since Week 11 with a stress fracture in his foot. Allen Hurns also has 40 catches but leads the team in receiving yards (566), touchdown receptions (six), and per-catch average (14.2).

Marqise Lee struggled with the offense early but has been much better in the three games since Robinson went down, catching 14 passes for 194 yards and one touchdown.

It’s hard to find reasons why the rookies have outperformed Shorts. His health isn’t an issue at this point. Shorts has missed 14 games in his three-plus seasons because of various injuries, and though he missed three of the first five games this season with a hamstring injury, he has been in the lineup for the last eight games.

His work ethic isn’t a problem. Coaches praise the amount of work he puts in during the season and in the offseason, using him as an example for the younger players. Both Shorts and Bradley said that all the time Shorts has spent mentoring the younger receivers -- on the field, in the locker room, and in the meeting room -- has not affected his play, either.

Without any concrete reasons for his struggles, it’s fair to wonder if Shorts is pressing because he’s feeling the weight of all the above things while trying to earn a bigger contract in free agency. He still could if he finishes the season strong -- but he knows it might not be in Jacksonville, though he reiterated that is where he wants to be.

"Of course you're going to be intrigued by [being wooed in free agency], but I really like what's going on here," Shorts said. "I like how [GM] Dave [Caldwell] is building the team. I like what [owner] Shad Khan's putting in the team. And I'm a huge fan of [coach] Gus [Bradley] and this coaching staff that we have here right now.

"The team, I feel, is going in the right direction and it would be awful -- I would feel terrible -- if I end up somewhere else and this team is -- boom! -- going. I just want to be here and I want to be a part of it because I've been through the rough times."
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Jacksonville Jaguars certainly haven’t gotten what they expected from running back Toby Gerhart, but it looks as if the former Stanford standout is finally starting to be productive.

It’s coming at the best time, too, because of the uncertain status of Denard Robinson, who showed up in the locker room Wednesday wearing a protective boot on his right foot because of a midfoot sprain.

Gerhart says the biggest reason for his increased production is he’s as healthy as he has been at any point this season.

"My health has continually gotten better and my foot’s feeling a lot better and I feel like I can do what I was brought in here to do and run, break tackles, get north and south and move the chains," Gerhart said. "These last couple weeks, my foot has been feeling pretty good, and I think it’s allowed me to really do what I was here to do."

Gerhart has run for 57 yards on 14 carries (4.1 per carry) and has made five catches for 35 yards (7.0 per reception) in the past three games. His production on the ground is significantly higher than it was in the eight games in which he played before the bye week. Gerhart averaged just 2.6 yards per carry in those games.

"He’s just playing really consistent right now and did some good things [against Houston]," coach Gus Bradley said. "… I think he’s just looking for opportunities. Sometimes when a back gets hot like Denard [Robinson] did for a while there, it’s tough."

Gerhart originally hurt his foot when he was brought down by a horse-collar tackle in the season opener against Philadelphia but didn’t miss any time in the next three games. He reinjured the foot in the Jaguars' loss to Pittsburgh on Oct. 4 and sat out the Tennessee and Cleveland games.

Robinson took over as the Jaguars’ No. 1 back in the Cleveland game and has started every game since. He’s the Jaguars’ leading rusher (582 yards) and leads all Jaguars running backs in yards per carry (4.3), but his status for Sunday’s game at Baltimore is uncertain.

Gerhart hasn’t carried the ball more than five times in the six games since he returned from the injury and has been moved into the third-down back role, but he’s likely to get a lot more work, along with rookie Storm Johnson, if Robinson isn’t able to play.

"What I would say for him is what’s important to him is he wants to contribute," Bradley said. "He really likes this team, likes being a part of it and wants to contribute to it, and when you don’t get a chance to contribute, sometimes frustration comes in, and I get that with him."

QB snapshot: Blake Bortles

December, 9, 2014
Dec 9
A quick observation of quarterback Blake Bortles and how he played in the Jacksonville Jaguars' 27-13 loss in Week 14:

Free-wheelin' Blake was back against the Houston Texans. Bortles was back to scrambling around and avoiding pressure and trying to make plays. That's the way he played when he first got on the field earlier this season against Indianapolis and then in the next few weeks, when he became the team's starter.

However, he had gotten away from that over the past six weeks, partly because offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch and coach Gus Bradley had been stressing the importance of taking care of the football. Bortles admitted he was probably overthinking things, but he played pretty freely against Houston.

A good example is his touchdown pass to Allen Hurns. Bortles was flushed out of the pocket and ran to his right. He waited until the last possible second to throw the ball to Hurns, who made a move to get open near the sideline. It was Bortles creating with his feet, using his athleticism, and making a play. He wasn't doing that enough until Sunday.

"I thought that freedom was back into his game. He did some good things there," Bradley said.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Jacksonville Jaguars coach Gus Bradley got exactly what he wanted early Sunday afternoon.

He has talked repeatedly about young teams feeding off momentum, and his team certainly had it after the first 30 minutes against the Houston Texans at EverBank Field.

The Jaguars led 13-10 (just their third halftime lead this season) and held quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick to just 27 yards passing. They didn’t allow the Texans to convert a third down (0-for-5) and had held defensive end J.J. Watt pretty much in check.

Plus, this was just a week after the Jaguars rallied for a come-from-behind victory over the New York Giants.

It was a perfect set up and just what the youngest team in the NFL needed. Momentum was wearing a teal T-shirt and waving black and gold pom-poms.

With all that energy behind them, the Jaguars went out and gained just 73 yards (four in the third quarter), managed only five first downs, gave up 17 points and ended up falling by the score of 27-13, their 27th double-digit loss since the beginning of the 2012 season.

"When you’re a young team, you kind of feed off momentum, and I think that’s who we are," Bradley said. "We saw it last week. We start making some plays, and good things happen to us after that. … The first half, we did that, and to not be able to finish it in the second half, I think that’s the part that was frustrating for all of us."

Frustrating but not surprising.

Several players -- notably receiver Cecil Shorts and left tackle Luke Joeckel -- said they weren’t sure what happened in the second half. It’s the same thing that happened against Philadelphia, San Diego, Pittsburgh, Tennessee, Miami and Indianapolis. The young offense commits mistake after mistake, nobody steps up to make a play, and the defense, which has done a remarkable job of keeping the games close, eventually breaks down under the pressure of having to be perfect.

It is the Jaguars’ identity in 2014. The players don’t want to admit it, but they’ve done it week after week.

"I don’t think I can answer that and say, ‘Yeah, that’s what we are,'" Sen'Derrick Marks said. "I think we’re just a team of youth, and we have to find a way to continue to be consistent. We’ve got to figure out a way how we can finish games because that’s what it boils down to. We were still in the game, driving the ball in a two-possession game, [and] all we had to do was score and get a stop, but we’ve got to find a way to finish games on both sides of the ball."

Here’s how the Jaguars went about not finishing:

The offense’s first three drives of the second half gained five, minus-1 and 10 yards.

The Texans’ first possession lasted 17 plays and 8:29, and it ended with rookie running back Alfred Blue's first career touchdown.

Quarterback Blake Bortles was intercepted by safety D.J. Swearinger to end the Jaguars' second possession. Bortles tried to hit running back Toby Gerhart on an out route, and Swearinger undercut the throw for the easy pick.

"I probably should have never thrown it," Bortles said. "I had Cecil on the sideline, sitting out there. I probably should have thrown it to Cecil or thrown it over [Gerhart’s] head."

Houston turned that turnover into a touchdown when Arian Foster scored on a 1-yard run on fourth down. Foster tried to run off right guard but ran into a mass of players. He reversed field and went into the end zone untouched to put the Texans ahead 24-13. The closest defender was safety Johnathan Cyprien, who swiped at Fosters’ feet as he dove over the pile.

Shorts also dropped a pass when he was wide open that would have resulted in a first down, and defensive tackle Roy Miller jumped offside on a fourth-and-1.

The Jaguars held the ball for just 9:11 in the second half.

"I’m not sure exactly what happened [in the] second half, but we’ve got to figure out a way to get this thing going," Shorts said. "We can’t have one good half and one bad half. We have to put a full game together."

And learn how to capitalize on momentum.