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Blake Bortles’ performance against the Bills would have made Tim Tebow proud

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Blake Bortles gave a uniquely ugly performance in a playoff win that only few quarterbacks in NFL history could pull off.

NFL: AFC Wild Card-Buffalo Bills at Jacksonville Jaguars Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

On Nov. 13, 2011, Tim Tebow went 2-of-8 passing for 69 yards and rushed nine times for 43 yards...and won, 17-10, over the Chiefs.

It was perhaps the most Tim Tebow performance of his Tim Tebow-ass career; a sort perfection that only that big lumbering, rumbling, stumbling simpleton could pull off. Perhaps no quarterback was better at failing upward than Tebow was. It may be a long time before we see a crud performance that great again.

But man, Blake Bortles came close.

The Jaguars beat the Bills, 10-3, on Sunday to advance to the Divisional Round of the NFL Playoffs, and Bortles couldn’t hit anything. On the CBS broadcast, Tony Romo called out the way Bortles’ wobbly passes were getting caught in the crosswind — passes to one half of the field would always sail high, while passes to the other side of the field would nosedive. Bortles finished 12-of-23 passing for 87 yards — 3.7 yards per attempt — and one touchdown.

Only one other quarterback played a full game with a worse per-attempt average this season and won — another perfectly imperfect passer by the name of Jay Cutler. No quarterback had won a playoff game while passing for fewer than 100 yards since Joe Flacco in 2010.

The fact that Bortles threw the ball so poorly and won speaks volumes about the Jaguars defense, which has been a havoc-wreaking delight all season and held the Bills to just 260 yards while forcing two turnovers.

Bortles’ game also speaks to the inability of the Bills defense to spy the fleet-footed (but not that fleet-footed) quarterback. Bortles ran for 20 yards on first down late in the first half to help set up a field goal, and it was like an epiphany. From then on, Bortles took full advantage of the opportunity to tuck the ball and take what the Bills were giving him on the ground. He had 88 yards on 10 carries, making Bortles — not rookie Leonard Fournette or veteran LeSean McCoy — the most dangerous offensive weapon in the game.

It put Bortles in strange company. No quarterback had rushed for more yards than he passed for and won since Michael Vick in 2005. No quarterback has rushed for more than he passed and somehow not topped 100 yards either rushing or passing since the Bills’ Gary Marangi in 1976. (The Bills lost.) Bortles’ degree of difficult was impressive, too. The last quarterback to attempt more than 20 passes, not top 100 yards, and somehow still win a playoff game was Steve McNair in 1999.

The Jaguars offense was awful at doing anything it had designs to do. It averaged just 2.8 yards per non-Bortles carry when Bortles wasn’t largely missing open targets on short passes. When passing plays broke down, however, Bortles was magic at getting first downs. ESPN play-by-play designated five of Bortles’ rushes as “scrambles.”

In addition to the 20-yarder, he went 12, 9, 1, and 10 yards on such plays. In the fourth quarter, Bortles fumbled a shotgun snap, only to scoop it up and run 26 yards for a first down that helped extend a drive that ate clock late with the Jags up seven points. In all, the Jaguars gained six of their 15 first downs thanks to Bortles’ legs.

Bortles was excellent as a runner in all the ways he was bad as a passer. When he dropped back to throw, he would seem flustered — his footwork would become panicked, and he would fail to see open receivers. Yet as a runner, he consistently made the correct decision.

It’d be easy to say that he simply took advantage of a glitch in a Bills defense that hadn’t planned on Bortles being a running threat, except that Buffalo of all teams should have seen this coming. Among all QBs with at least 1,000 career passing attempts, Bortles is fourth all time at 6.32 yards per carry, behind Michael Vick, Bobby Douglass, and Randall Cunningham, and ahead of Colin Kaepernick (sixth), Marcus Mariota (ninth), Steve Young (10th), Russell Wilson (13th), and literally every other qualifying quarterback ever.

Not just that, but the last and only other game in which Bortles has rushed for more than 80 yards came in 2016 when he put up 81 on — hyup — the Bills.

There’s a lens in which we view Bortles as a decidedly meh quarterback. (He finished 20th this season in passer rating, though 12th in ESPN’s QBR which factors in things like rushing ability.) There’s also a lens through which we view Bortles as an inevitability, as a dude who even when he plays really poorly is always an extant and overgrown threat to bumble his way into a big play. You can’t count on a lot of good out of Bortles, but you can count on something good. Eventually.

It’s a feeling I haven’t had about a quarterback since Mr. .226 himself. I like to think we all remember where we were on Jan. 8, 2012, when the Broncos and Steelers went to overtime in the Wild Card round and America collectively thought oh god damn it, he’s going to do it isn’t he. Sure enough, Tebow swung his arm like a big ‘ol whip, kicked up his plant leg, and delivered a perfect ball to Demaryius Thomas, who went 80 yards to the end zone for one of the most memorable playoff game-winning plays ever.

Tebow had no business being a starting NFL quarterback, but you had to hand it to him that day. He completed just 10 passes, but they went for 316 yards, two touchdowns and no picks. Likewise, you could say that at least Bortles protected the ball and bailed out the Jaguars offense on a day when the Bills defense shut down everything else.

Doing so feels like an affront to all proper football sensibilities, but believe it or not the Jaguars won and could very well keep winning behind their Tebow-ass quarterback. The Jags have learned how to lean into Bortles by now. It would be frustrating and maddening and gross as hell, yes, but it could happen. We’ve seen it before.


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