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Bortles still a pinata despite success

The great thing about the Jacksonville Jaguars advancing to the second round of the playoffs this weekend is that everybody has finally stopped beating up on poor Blake Bortles. He's winning! He's The Man!

"They are the best team," said former Tampa Bay Bucs QB Chris Simms. "The problem is they have the 70th best quarterback."

"I want to make him look like Blake Bortles if I can and try to catch a couple picks," said Titans All-Pro safety Kevin Byard, in reference to Tom Brady.

Oops. Well, as my good friend Ron Burgundy likes to say: "That escalated quickly."

Borltles is everybody's favorite pinata. Poke and punch. I've busted down a few of those back in the day, making a mad dash to the ground in search of candy, small trinkets, toys and other prizes.

That pretty much sums up the Bortles' NFL dossier. You just don't know what the heck you are going to get. We saw that last week when he struggled to make even the most fundamental passes, throwing for a paltry 87 yards in a 10-3 victory against the Buffalo Bills in the wild-card round.

But Bortles also ran for a team-high 88 yards, extending drives and allowing the Jags' dominant defense to rest before continuing its dirty work in the trenches.

But the first number is still unacceptable against the Steelers. Bortles knows that. So does Simms. So does Byard. And the rest of the world.

Bortles would not be the first ho-hum quarterback to lead his team to the Super Bowl. Trent Dilfer had that covered for the Baltimore Ravens in 2000.

Of course that was before Facebook launched in 2004, followed by Twitter in 2006. It's created a universe of 24-7 engagement and instant reaction. Or simply rants and food fights.

Tag, you're it, Blake Bortles.

"It will probably never stop," Bortles said earlier this week. "There are people who think LeBron James sucks. If that happens, I'm sure there will be a lot of people that always think I suck."

I'm thinking the comparison to James is a tad much. Bortles is more of an Elfrid Payton kind of guy. A gifted but flawed athlete (please refer to clips of his outside jumper and lapses on defense).

But a QB at any level is always going to draw more praise and glory, as well as the rip shots. Bortles doesn't need to throw for 300 yards to beat Pittsburgh. He simply needs to play well enough for the Jags to cobble together about 20 points, and hope that the defense -- the true heart of his team -- goes stout on Big Ben and the Steelers offense.

Bortles has remained consistently even-tempered responding to the blowback regarding his strengths and weaknesses, but it's hard to ignore when there's so much of it going around.

Simms made his comment about Bortles in December on The Dan Patrick Show, and then doubled down when he was on The Dan LeBatard Show recently.

Tony Boselli, the former Jaguars offensive lineman and now on Jacksonville's broadcast crew, called in to join the fray, defending Bortles.

"I appreciate Chris Simms almost died bleeding to death on the football field, which is the only cool factor that he has in his entire life, outside of his dad's great, too," Boselli said, in reference to Simms rupturing his spleen during a loss to Carolina in 2006. "(But) Blake Bortles is the 70th-best quarterback is just the most ignorant, asinine statement I've ever heard."

Unfortunately, Bortles won't have Boselli -- a five-time All-Pro -- watching his back Sunday afternoon. Bortles needs to watch his back (and front side) from the ongoing charge, whether it's the Steelers defensive front or the Twitter trolls.

At this point, he's winning the Internet and playing with house money. A few months ago, it would have surprised no one if the Jags had announced they were moving on from Bortles.

The Jaguars have defied expectations to get to Pittsburgh on Sunday. Their quarterback had something to do with that, even if he is everyone's favorite pinata.

Sports on 01/13/2018

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