By Jim Wexell, The Sports Xchange – UPI
PITTSBURGH — Blake Bortles has had better passer ratings than the 94.1 he posted Sunday at Heinz Field.
The Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback has passed for more than 214 yards, completed more than 54 percent of his passes and thrown more than one touchdown pass many, many times.
But the 45-42 win he directed Sunday over the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC divisional round of the playoffs was obviously the most satisfying of Bortles’ up and down four-year career.
Not that he cares what anybody thinks.
“I’ve said it a bunch all year long. I really don’t care,” Bortles said. “I couldn’t care less what anyone in the world says about me. I enjoy going to work every day with those guys in that locker room and the coaching staff. I enjoy everything we do, and this is the type of thing that you dream of — to get opportunities to play in games like this.
“To be able to come here and do that against a team like Pittsburgh, it will never change for me. Everybody is in the NFL here. It’s the highest level of football there is in the world. It’s tough to say that someone is not a good player or is trash.”
The latter has been some fans’ definition of Bortles after the immense expectations he brought with being the third overall pick of the 2014 draft. That pick appeared to be justified Sunday in a modest game statistically, but in a game in which he wasn’t sacked and didn’t turn the ball over.
“I’m just happy to win,” he said. “I have no animosity against anyone who said anything. I’m happy to be able to come here and do this with this team.
“There are a lot of guys home on the couch watching this. I’m sure they are wishing that they could play. I know in years past I have been. So having the opportunity to be able to continue to play feels awesome.”
Bortles was often compared with Ben Roethlisberger after he was drafted, mainly because of his size and mobility. But it’s Roethlisberger who will be home on the couch after setting team playoff records with 58 attempts, 37 completions, 469 yards and five touchdowns.
However, Roethlisberger threw an interception that set up Leonard Fournette‘s 18-yard touchdown run for the Jaguars and a fumble that was returned 50 yards for a touchdown by linebacker Telvin Smith.
Those were the second and fourth touchdowns scored by the Jaguars on Sunday.
“It doesn’t matter when you give them 14 more,” Roethlisberger said of his gaudy stats. “That’s on me. I’ll take full blame for those points and that loss because you can’t put your defense in that situation.”
Roethlisberger had said during the week that he intends to return next season. He confirmed it once again after Sunday’s loss.
“I definitely have a desire to play football,” he said. “I love this game. I love these guys. It’s tough. It stings. You hate to lose it. You hate to lose at home. I feel bad because I feel like I let the fans down, my teammates down. … And I feel bad for that.
“I feel like I let a lot of people down, and I’ll take it all on myself. That’s fine. I have no problem with that. And I will be — like I said, I don’t know about contracts and who’s coming back, but I know the guys up front are. That makes it good for me. So I look forward to next year with those guys.”
After losing to New England, Steelers safety Mike Mitchell was quoted about the Patriots two weeks ago for a story that came out last week about injured Pittsburgh linebacker Ryan Shazier. It led reporters to question the Steelers’ focus after losing to the Jaguars.
“C’mon, you know that answer,” Steelers guard Ramon Foster said. “You guys threw all that (expletive) out there as far as us overlooking them. We practiced two weeks for Jacksonville. There’s no (expletive) way we overlooked them. C’mon you know that answer.”
Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell predicted a win Saturday on Twitter, but he didn’t think his focus ever wavered.
“I never go into a game thinking I’m going to lose, so I let everybody in the world know I feel like I’m going to win,” Bell said. “If we played tomorrow against whoever, I’d do the same thing. I don’t regret what I said.
“Everybody said it gave them extra motivation, but I don’t even know what that means. If you’re not motivated enough to play in the divisional playoff round anyway, it don’t matter. I just think for me, I don’t regret what I said. Those guys played better. They got the job done.”
“That’s what happens when you talk stuff,” said Jaguars strong safety Barry Church, a Pittsburgh native. “I mean you have players on their team talking about the Patriots, acting like they were just about to obliterate us. I mean it doesn’t make sense.
“I mean they came at us with that disrespect. They just fed us the fuel that we needed to dominate, and, yeah, they got a couple yards. We were in prevent. Other than that, they didn’t have anything for us. I’m glad we sent them home.”
Except for top offensive line reserve Chris Hubbard, the Steelers shouldn’t suffer any free-agent losses, unless they can’t come to an agreement with Bell, who said last week that he won’t accept another franchise tag.
It leaves Roethlisberger optimistic about making a Super Bowl run in his 15th season.
“I don’t know how many years guys have left, other than the guys up front,” Roethlisberger said. “I know those guys are all under contract and that’s a good feeling.
“Obviously, a lot’s made of Le’Veon, so you know that. But the urgency is always there when you feel like you’ve got a good team. When you feel like you’ve got a team that has a lot of potential and a lot of things go their way. It stinks that you fall short.”
Bell said, “I never want to leave this city,” but he couldn’t guarantee his return.
“I’m not sure,” he said. “That’s for the guys upstairs to handle all that. I’m just a player, unfortunately. Hopefully, we’ve got a lot of people back and make a run next year.
“I know we’ve got the talent. We’ve got a lot of great players in this locker room, a lot of young players. T.J. (Watt) was a great pick. (Stephon) Tuitt is still growing. A lot of guys are really young and still getting better and developing. I think another year will make those guys even more elite. It’ll be fun next year.”
Should the Steelers have gone for an onside kick with 2:18 and two timeouts remaining?
“We wanted to get the ball back,” Tomlin said. “We hadn’t stopped them convincingly enough to take any other approach in my opinion, and it was my decision.”
Should the Steelers have run inside on the first fourth-and-1 instead of the toss right to Bell that lost 4 yards?
“They packed the As and the Bs,” Tomlin said of the line gaps. “Obviously wasn’t comfortable with the result. We didn’t execute well enough and they did, and I guess you got to acknowledge that.”
Should Roethlisberger have run a quarterback sneak on either of the fourth-and-1s?
“I don’t know. It’s been awhile since we’ve run a quarterback sneak,” Roethlisberger said. “I’m for it. I don’t know — that’s kind of over my head when it comes to why we don’t do it.”
The Steelers made an organizational decision years ago not to run sneaks for fear their franchise quarterback would get “earholed” by a defender.