Playoffs could change perception for QBs Taylor, Bortles
By MARK LONG, AP Sports Writer
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Benched earlier this season and questioned for years, Tyrod Taylor and Blake Bortles have a chance to change public perception on the NFL’s playoff stage.
Taylor helped Buffalo end the longest, current postseason drought in North American pro sports (17 years) while Bortles led Jacksonville to its first playoff berth since the 2007 season.
Whichever one wins the next game could do wonders to his image.
The Jaguars (10-6) host the Bills (9-7) in an AFC wild-card game Sunday, a win-or-go-home matchup that means as much to the quarterbacks as anyone.
The Bills were in talks with free agent Brian Hoyer in March and ready to part ways with Taylor until he agreed to restructure his contract extension and make it a two-year deal worth $30.5 million. He has one year remaining, but the team could save $10 million by moving on after this season.
No one would be surprised to see it happen, especially after coach Sean McDermott benched Taylor in favor of rookie Nathan Peterman in November. Peterman threw five first-half interceptions in a 54-24 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers, and Taylor has been the team’s starter since .
“I don’t focus on things that I can’t control, and I’m going to continue to be that way,” said Taylor, who has 14 touchdown passes and four interceptions this season. “All I can control right now is my preparation, my focus, my work ethic to putting it all in for this week. It’s a one-game season right now, and that’s for everyone.
“I can’t allow distractions or thinking too far ahead.”
Bortles has taken a similar approach despite constant bashing — and not just the typical criticism from fans and media.
Tennessee defensive end Jurrell Casey told a Nashville radio station this week, “As long as Bortles is back there, if the ballgame is in his hands, he’s going to choke.”
Casey tried to clarify his comments two days later, writing on Twitter, “Chill, y’all. I was just hyping our defense. If we put the pressure, some QBs will choke.”
Hearing talk such as that is nothing new for Bortles, who’s been publicly ripped by Houston defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, Seattle safety Earl Thomas and Cincinnati linebacker Vontaze Burfict in the past two months.
“Players or peers talking about you is a little new,” said Bortles, who is a big reason Jacksonville is hosting its first playoff game since 1999.
“I’ve never been somebody that felt that is the way you should handle things, but guys are different. I had the chance, was fortunate enough to play for George O’Leary in college and playing for Coach O’Leary, you learned very quickly how to take criticism. I had four years of practice doing that, so there’s nobody that can say anything worse to me than he did.
“I got benched every other day.”
Jaguars coach Doug Marrone actually benched Bortles in the preseason, stirring speculation that his days in Jacksonville were numbered.
But Bortles regained the starting job a week later and has been better than expected since , although five interceptions in the past two games — both losses — have some questioning him again.
His first playoff game — Taylor went to the 2013 Super Bowl as Baltimore’s backup — could leave outsiders looking at him differently.
“Playing a playoff game in Jacksonville hasn’t happened in a while, so having that opportunity to play in front of our fans and our city and our stadium, I think, is awesome,” Bortles said. “I think everyone realizes it’s your last chance. If you lose, you go home, it’s over.”
Here are some other things to know about Buffalo and Jacksonville:
STAR STATUS: Bills running back LeSean McCoy is questionable with a right ankle injury. McCoy said he was feeling “a lot better” Thursday, but declined to make any guarantees about playing. McCoy accounts for nearly a third of Buffalo’s offense.
OLD FACE, NEW PLACE: Jaguars defensive tackle Marcell Dareus insists he harbors no ill will toward his former team. His actions might say otherwise. The 340-pound run-stopper will face the Bills for the first time since they traded him in October for a late-round draft pick.
MARRONE’S MAKEOVER: Jaguars coach Doug Marrone bolted on Buffalo in 2014, opting out of his contract and getting $4 million to walk away. Marrone landed in Jacksonville and will face Buffalo in his first playoff game as a head coach.
LONG TIME COMING: Jacksonville’s first home playoff game since January 2000 will be a packed house. The Jaguars sold every ticket available and even received permission to remove tarps covering four upper-deck sections to help satisfy demand.
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