JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Don't rule out Blake Bortles being Jacksonville's starting quarterback beyond this season.
Bortles has been surprisingly and consistently efficient through the halfway point and is one of the reasons the Jaguars (5-3) have matched their best start in a decade.
He's been even better that what coach Doug Marrone and top executive Tom Coughlin expected when they built the team to pound the ball on the ground, take advantage of play-action passes and avoid shootouts with stout defense.
Bortles has completed a career-best 59.4 percent of his passes for 1,657 yards, with 10 touchdowns and five interceptions. He delivered one of the best performances of his four years Sunday against Cincinnati. He threw for 259 yards and a touchdown, scrambled for another 20 yards and played turnover-free, sack-free football for the third time this season and the fourth time in 53 games.
He has growing support in the locker room and in the front office.
"Blake's been balling," veteran tight end Marcedes Lewis said. "He's doing everything we're asking him to do and then some."
And he's doing it without several key players.
Top receiver Allen Robinson (knee) was lost for the season in the opener. Rookie running back Leonard Fournette missed the past two games, one because of a sprained ankle and the other because he violated a team rule . Center Brandon Linder missed three games because of an undisclosed illness. Rookie receiver Dede Westbrook has yet to play following core muscle surgery.
Bortles continues to get the offense in the correct plays, and more importantly, he's avoiding game-changing mistakes.
"I feel good," Bortles said following a 23-7 victory against the Bengals. "We are a running team first. There is no secret about that. I think everybody knows it, but that doesn't mean we don't have the ability to throw the ball.
"We run the ball because that is what we are the most effective at. That's how we can control the game and control the clock, keep the other offense off the field, so that's what we do and we are good at it.
"When there are times that we need to throw the ball, we are good at that, too."
Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict might even acknowledge that now.
The outspoken defender made headlines this week by saying, "I'm not sure Blake can beat us. We want to put it in his hands and have him beat us, if he can."
Bortles responded on the field , helping the Jaguars win consecutive games for the first time in 13 months and win at EverBank Field for the first time since last December. He took a shot at Burfict and receiver A.J. Green, who retaliated and punched trash-talking cornerback Jalen Ramsey late in the first half.
"I thought we did a good job playing as hard as we possibly can between the whistles and beating the (heck) out of them," Bortles said.
Bortles wants to run up the score as well.
Jacksonville had the ball at the Cincinnati 1-yard line with 35 seconds remaining, and Bortles started lobbying to run a play to score. Coach Doug Marrone overruled him, telling him to take a knee.
"At the time and the moment, playing against those guys, I wanted to score again," Bortles said.
Bortles might really score after the season. The Jaguars picked up the fifth-year option in his rookie contract, meaning they could keep him on the roster for $19 million in 2018. It wouldn't be the craziest idea, especially considering Jacksonville is built to win now.
Bortles knows the offense, and if he continues to take care of the ball and beat teams with his arm, the Jaguars might decide to stick with him.
"I feel good going into each week," he said. "I feel comfortable. There is obviously different things that happen on Sunday and you just have to figure it out and make corrections on and overcome."
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