NFL Notes: Bortles heads culprits

What once was a winnable AFC South for the Jacksonville Jaguars has now turned into anything but that.

The Jaguars sit at 2-7 – four games behind division-leading Houston and in the NFL, even with seven games left in the season, you’re asking a team that has done next to nothing to turn it around all of a sudden and hope that the team that it’s chasing is going to hit its worst rut in three seasons.

It’s not looking like that will happen.

A four-game losing streak has made them go from contenders to thinking about next year’s draft already. And where do you point the finger? There are a number of factors: No turnover to claim. Mediocre to bad play-calling offensively. A terrible run game. The defense being left out on the field too long.

And then there’s a big reason for all this – the inconsistent play of third-year starting quarterback Blake Bortles. In his first five games, Bortles was 118-of-193 passing for a 61.1 percentage. In the last four games, he’s 110-of-197 passing for 58.8 percent. Even though he has four more touchdowns than interceptions in the last four games, you can tell something has been amiss all season. Last season, he was not afraid to air the ball out to his two sensational wide receivers, Allen Hurns and Pro Bowler Allen Robinson, for what would amount to 4,428 yards with 35 touchdowns. This year, he has 2,421 yards and 16 touchdowns, even though his completion percentage (60.0) is better than last year (58.6).

He had 72 passes of 20 or more yards and 11 more of 40. This year, the numbers are slightly below at 37 and 6, respectively.

“Definitely, I think it’ll come,” Bortles said Wednesday of connecting on the deep ball. “There’s no doubt in my mind. We work at it every day in practice. There’s not a doubt that we’ll start hitting the ones that we’ve barely missed. Those will start becoming routine and we’ll make those plays and be back to being the explosive offense we know we can be.”

But it has to start this weekend on the road in Detroit against the Lions, who behind Matthew Stafford’s 2,373 yards, 18 touchdowns and five interceptions have surged back into the NFC North Division race. The Jaguars are 1-1 against the NFC North this year, losing to Green Bay at home, then beating Chicago on the road.

“They have some different packages and they stand 94 (defensive end Ezekiel Ansah) up and walk him around,” Bortles said of the Lions’ defense. “It’s kind of the same stuff every week you go into it – it’s here’s who they are and here’s who they want to be and then here are the unique looks. It’s figuring that stuff out and trying to figure the best way to handle it.”

n As has been documented in this space during the season, the turnover situation has been terrible for the Jaguars, whose minus-14 is the worst of the league. And of the five turnovers they’ve scooped up via fumble or interception, none have been returned for a touchdown.

But just when you think it may be unusual for a team to go an entire season without doing that, think again. The Jaguars have gone seven seasons in their 22-year history without a touchdown off a turnover. That most recently happened during the team’s lost 2-14 2012 season. The longest games streak between touchdowns off turnovers for the Jaguars is 53 straight games between a Rashean Mathis 73-yard interception score against Pittsburgh in the fifth game of the 2008 season to Ashton Youbuty’s 38-yard fumble return for a score in the 11th game of the 2011 season against the Houston Texans.

The current streak without a fumble or interception return for a score is at 12, dating back to Adrian Branch’s 58-yard return of an Andrew Luck sack and fumble in a 51-16 rout of Indianapolis last Dec. 13.

n When the New York Giants marched down the field Monday night to score a touchdown on the opening drive of the night, that left two franchises who have not scored a touchdown on their opening drives this season.

One team is the New York Jets. The other? You guessed it ... the Jacksonville Jaguars. Their opening-drive drought is at 23 games dating back to Sept. 20, 2015 when Bortles hit Robinson with a 3-yard scoring pass to finish out a 10-play, 82-yard opening drive in a 23-20 win over the Miami Dolphins at home.

n NFL Power Rankings: So for the first time since we started doing power rankings years ago, the team with the star is at the top as the Dallas Cowboys, riding an eight-game winning streak, move into the No. 1 spot, while New England, which lost to Seattle, drops down to No. 6. Seattle, speaking of which, moves up four places to No. 3, while Kansas City (No. 2), Oakland (No. 4) and Denver (No. 5) all move up a place. Houston moves into the Top 10 again at No. 9, while the resurgent Miami Dolphins, winners of four straight, move into the Top 10 at No. 10.

1. (2 last week) Dallas (8-1); 2. (3) Kansas City (7-2); 3. (7) Seattle (6-2-1); 4. (5) Oakland (7-2); 5. (6) Denver (7-3); 6. (1) New England (7-2); 7. (8) New York Giants (6-3); 8. (9) Detroit (5-4); 9. (NEW) Houston (6-3). 10. (NEW) Miami (5-4).

Mark Blumenthal’s NFL Notes are published every Thursday during the season in the Palatka Daily News. You can reach him at mblumenthal@palatkadailynews.com or on Twitter @diabolicalmarky.

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