JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- There's no gentle way to put this: The Jacksonville Jaguars were somewhat of a laughingstock across the NFL over the previous five years.
They won just 17 games, gave away an annual home game to London, drew terrible ratings in the few times they were on national television, and had the coach they fired after a loss in Houston fly back to Jacksonville with the team.
Quarterback Blake Bortles bore the brunt of public scorn: He led the NFL in turnovers from 2014 to 2016 (63), threw an interception off a teammate's foot while trying to throw the ball away and, until last Sunday, had thrown only five touchdown passes when the Jaguars were leading.
Oh yeah, he nearly lost his job during the preseason, too.
That's partly why Bortles said the 2017 season is a chance for redemption for him and the team.
"It's definitely a chance for myself personally and, obviously, this organization that has struggled over the past couple of years to rewrite the narrative and change the script on what our perception is in the league and the world as a football team," Bortles said Wednesday on a conference call with Nashville media, ahead of a Week 2 game against the Tennessee Titans.
"It's a great opportunity to do that."
Bortles and the Jaguars got their revenge tour off to a good start last Sunday, beating Houston 29-7. The Jaguars sacked quarterbacks Tom Savage and Deshaun Watson a franchise-record 10 times (including a franchise-record four by Calais Campbell), forced four turnovers and held the Texans to just 203 yards.
Bortles threw for 125 yards and one touchdown, wasn't sacked and didn't commit a turnover for only the second time in his career. Rookie Leonard Fournette rushed for 100 yards and a touchdown and the Jaguars have a winning record for the first time since they opened the 2011 season with a victory over Tennessee.
They are the only unbeaten team in the AFC South after the Titans lost to Oakland and Indianapolis was routed by the Los Angeles Rams. The Titans travel to Jacksonville on Sunday, and a victory for the Jaguars would mark the team's first 2-0 start since they beat Dallas and Pittsburgh to open the 2006 season.
"It's been a while," said tight end Marcedes Lewis, who was a rookie in 2006. "I just think that we're grasping the idea of not shooting ourselves in the foot and losing games before we learn how to win games. So if we go out there and just handle our business, we're going to be in every game."
Bortles' business has certainly changed. The Jaguars drafted Fournette fourth overall and committed to a run-first approach to take pressure off Bortles. He averaged 37 pass attempts per game in his first three seasons and the Jaguars want to cut that number drastically. Bortles' 21 passes against the Texans are the fewest he has thrown in a game.
It's unlikely he will always be able to get by throwing so few passes, but the Jaguars certainly want the number below 30. That's close to the area of the dreaded "game manager" in this era of the NFL where it's all about the quarterbacks, but that's just fine with Bortles.
"Man, it was awesome," Bortles said. "It was fun. It was fun to hand the ball off and watch Chris [Ivory] and Leonard and the guys up front get after it."
It would seem the Jaguars are more effective when they're not leaning too heavily on Bortles' right arm. The team is 1-11 in games in which Bortles has thrown for 300 or more yards and 6-8 (including last Sunday's victory) in games in which he has thrown for less than 200 yards.
The 2017 season is more than a revenge tour for Bortles, though. It's also about proving to the Jaguars that he can be the franchise quarterback they expected him to be when they drafted him third overall in 2014. That was in jeopardy when he played poorly last year and during training camp and the preseason, which forced coach Doug Marrone to create an open competition between Bortles and backup Chad Henne after the second preseason game.
"I put myself in a situation where I did do not enough," Bortles said. "So rather than sitting and worrying about what everybody is saying or how everybody is saying, 'you suck' and all this crap, I said, 'Look, I'm going to get a chance to take some reps. I don't know how many reps it's going to be during the week, but I'm going to get some reps, so I'm going to do whatever I can.'
"I now have the control to make sure there's never another quarterback controversy again. My goal is to play quarterback in the NFL for a long time and you can't do that when you don't perform well enough, and I wasn't performing well enough. Now that's in my control to take care of that."