NFL's best QB? In December, that's been Jaguars' Blake Bortles

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- This week, it's Peyton Manning. Last week, it was Tom Brady.

Teammates are running out of comparisons to describe how well Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles has been playing in December.

How about this: Better than any quarterback in the NFL.

Nobody else has put up these kind of stats: 71 percent completion rate, 903 passing yards, seven touchdowns, no interceptions, an NFL-best 85.4 total QBR and -- most importantly -- a 3-0 record over the past three weeks.

"It's so crazy, because to be able to be a part of the 2015 [Denver Broncos] team where you had Peyton Manning just on the field for 40, 30 minutes doing his thing and to be able to see Blake out there doing the exact same thing, it's like déjà vu," Jaguars defensive tackle Malik Jackson said. "It's one of those things that he's just doing what he's supposed to do. If I was Calais [Campbell] coming in here, I'd be like, 'Who were they talking about?'

"Blake's killing it."

Jackson was referencing the intense -- and warranted -- criticism of Bortles in the offseason after an abysmal 2016 season. The 2017 campaign is Bortles' prove-it season -- and it started miserably in training camp with a five-interception performance.

That reinforced the belief that Bortles was a disaster as a player and the Jaguars made a huge mistake by drafting him third overall in 2014. He had an NFL-high 63 turnovers in his first three seasons and had led the Jaguars to an 11-34 record as a starter.

Bortles has played solid football for much of this season, but he has really turned things on in December: 309 passing yards and two touchdown tosses against the Indianapolis Colts; 268 yards and two TD passes against the Seattle Seahawks; and 326 yards and two TDs against the Houston Texans on Sunday. That marked the first time in Jaguars history that a quarterback has had multiple touchdown passes and no interceptions in three consecutive games, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.

"Honestly, I just kind of feel like I have been playing the same the whole time," Bortles said. "Obviously, the results and numbers are a bit better, but I feel just as comfortable and as confident as I did six or seven weeks ago. I think the guys are starting to make unbelievable plays."

Bortles' teammates rallied to his defense when the criticism was the loudest. And now they're excited about his recent surge because it's coming at the perfect time. The Jaguars (10-4) clinched a playoff berth on Sunday. Now they have a chance to win the AFC South, secure a home playoff game and possibly earn a first-round bye.

"We just continue to play for each other and with each other," Jacksonville linebacker Telvin Smith said. "That's what 5 [Bortles] is doing. He's just relying on the guys around him, letting the offensive line do their thing, letting the running backs do their things. He's not trying to stress it.

"That's what we love. It's just continuing to push us and elevate us when the offense gets to firing like that."

Tight end Marcedes Lewis said players could see this building over the past several weeks, and he's eager to see how much better Bortles can be. The Jaguars rely on their top-ranked defense, but adding great quarterback play is a formula for a playoff run.

"His reads are sharp. He knows pre-snap what he wants to do," Lewis said of the signal-caller. "You can see him out there. He' just playing ball. If there's a rush coming, he's just sliding over a little bit, getting in position, making the throws, not panicking. He's doing his thing. I'm proud of him."

Bortles' bounce-back campaign won't be complete unless he finishes the rest of the regular season strong and plays well in the postseason. That'll make it a virtual lock that the Jaguars will bring him back as the starter in 2018, which is something that seemed ridiculous when the 2017 season began.