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Eric Rowe on Bortles: Can't be 'trash' and in title game

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The New England Patriots spent their week mostly tiptoeing around the Jacksonville Jaguars, being careful not to provide any bulletin-board material.

Exhibit A comes from Patriots corner Eric Rowe, who glowed about enigmatic Blake Bortles:

"Blake Bortles is in the AFC championship," Rowe said earlier in the week, via The Florida Times-Union. "There's no other way to put it. The media and the guys on other teams can talk about 'trash' he is, but he's beaten teams. Obviously he's a good scrambling quarterback, he has an arm, he has receivers and he's in the championship game.

"You can't be 'trash' and be in the championship game."

The comment comes in a season in which after Jadeveon Clowney called Bortles "trash," Earl Thomas called him "subpar." Cameron Jordan mocked that Bortles "[gives] picks away." And on down the line, to the point where Titans All-Pro safety Kevin Byard attempted to make "Bortles" into a verb.

The Jaguars' performances this season have mirrored Bortles' play.

Bortles in 12 wins: 61.8 completion percentage, 7.6 yards per attempt, 18-3 TD-INT, and a 99.0 passer rating.
Bortles in 6 losses: 56.1 completion percentage, 5.9 yards per attempt, 5-10 TD-INT, and a 62.1 passer rating.

As colleague Chris Wesseling astutely noted in his preview of the AFC Championship, the Jags have hidden Bortles in big games with a bevy of play-action passes and quick, easy reads. The move has paid off well for offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett. According to Pro Football Focus, Bortles has the eighth-best passer rating (106.6) on play-action passes (including playoffs) this season. His passer rating is 29.6 points higher on play-action than non-PA throws.

Bortles must overcome some brutal history to score the win. Since 2001, QBs making their first, second or third career playoff start are 0-9 against the Patriots, with 11 pass TD, 14 INT and a 70.5 passer rating in those games, per NFL Research. Bortles is currently 2-0 in his playoff career.

If Bortles is to propel that record to 3-0, he'll have to fit some tosses into tight windows versus man coverage against Bill Belichick's defense. If he doesn't, detractors will have more fuel for their fire this offseason, including in Jacksonville where Bortles could be replaced by a more consistent model.

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