By CATHAL KELLY
Monday, January 8, 2018
TORONTO -- Jacksonville Jaguars quarter back Blake Bortles used his sideline interview after Sunday'splayoffgameagainst Buffalo to issue a series of excuses and apologies. It was windy out there, everybody was feeling a little off and it just wasn't working out.
"We weren't sharp," Bortles said. "We made some bad plays, did some stupid stuff."
This was the guy who won the game.
Statistically, Buffalo lost 10-3.
Spiritually, football lost. This contest was a three-hour-long affront to good taste. The main perpetrators were the quarterbacks, Bortles and Buffalo's Tyrod Taylor.
It was gusty in Jacksonville, but those two made it seem as if the game was being played in a typhoon. They overthrew receivers, underthrew them and missed them all together. They hit them in the back, or the legs or led them into over-the-middle decapitation tackles. I assume they both ran over a couple of wideouts in the parking lot afterward and then said, "I'm sorry, I didn't see you there."
Bortles - who is the size of two golf carts stacked one on top of the other - won the game with his feet. He ran for 88 yards (which is impressive) and threw for 87 (which is not). It is worse than not impressive. It's the sort of thing that's supposed to disqualify you from playing quarterback at the professional level.
In keeping with the theme, Bortles's best run came after he'd dropped the snap out of the shotgun formation, leaned over to pick it up like some geriatric retrieving a golf ball and ran unimpeded for 19 yards. CBS erred badly in not replaying that sequence in a loop over the Benny Hill theme song rather than air the fourth quarter. It would have been more entertaining.
Taylor was nearly as awful. He was knocked senseless during Buffalo's final drive (after failing to notice an open receiver running uncovered behind the Jacksonville defence) and replaced by his rookie backup, Nathan Peterman. Peterman's game-killing interception was a sweet release from so much artistic pain.
Much has been made of the 6,574 days between postseason appearances for Buffalo. I'm not sure Sunday qualified as an "appearance." It had more in common with someone jogging out onto the stage and falling midwave through an open trap door.
Much will now be made of Jacksonville - the closest thing the NFL has to a zombie franchise - going to a divisional playoff game for only the second time in 18 years.Pittsburgh has them so outclassed offensively, Jacksonville's best hope is a defensive shutout. This isn't the beginning of a long-term resurgence by the NFL's working class.
Buffalo can't win with Taylor, and Jacksonville is not going anywhere with Bortles. Both teams would be better off putting a tackling dummy behind centre.
What a tackling dummy lacks in arms, eyes and perambulation, it makes up for in terms of decision-making.
If only there was some cheap, highly motivated and available replacement out there to turn to. That's something we won't hear a lot about this week through leagueapproved lines of communication.
At no point during the year was the NFL's feigned ignorance of Colin Kaepernick's existence more glaring than during this game. The idea that he is no longer good enough to be a backup in the league is farcical. Buffalo's Peterman ends the season with three times as many interceptions as touchdowns. And that's a guy on a "good" team.
They could have put Kaepernick out there in jeans and a blindfold and he'd have done better than Sunday's starters.
But he is no longer an unemployed football player devoting his free time to activism. He's an activist who once played football.
The wretchedness of the game also highlighted the general decline at the quarterback position.
The big news leading into this weekend was an ESPN exposé on the explosive friction developing in New England.
According to that piece, Tom Brady hates his coach, the coach hates the owner and the owner is starting to hate the coach. In the midst of that turmoil, Brady is starting to turn into Howard Hughes - a paranoiac believer in miracle cures who thinks he can play into his mid-40s.
Whether every bit of it is true (no one has bothered to refute it in specific terms), it illustrates how bizarrely valuable a quarterback in decline has become.
Rather than upset Brady, New England gave away his promising backup, Jimmy Garoppolo, midseason. That already seems to be a terrible trade. In a few years, it may be Babe-Ruth-to-the-Yankees-level bad.
But you understand why they did it. The quarterback position is in a period of profound stagnation.
Some young stars have worked out - the Rams' Jared Goff or Philadelphia's Carson Wentz - but the bulk of the league's best are men in their mid-to-late 30s. You can tick them off - Drew Brees, Alex Smith, Aaron Rodgers, Philip Rivers, et al.
Teams without a brand-name pivot - Buffalo and Jacksonville, for instance - have given up on the idea of the quarterback altogether. They'll run the ball, invest in defence and figure that one postseason game while playing it safe is better than taking a risk and getting none at all.
That unseemly caution is contagious.
This is why the Patriots aren't bothered about planning for whatever comes after Brady (or the Packers about Rodgers or the Saints about Brees, etc.) - because no one else has figured it out either. This is a time of great doubt and little vision in the NFL.
The one thing everyone in the league can agree on is that in the midst of this historically low ebb of quarterbacking talent, Kaepernick still isn't good enough.
Sunday afternoon proved the lie in that, but also proved that nothing is going to change.
Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette makes a catch over Leonard Johnson of the Bills on Sunday.
STEPHEN B. MORTON/AP