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Midseason report: Jacksonville Jaguars

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- A lot has happened with the Jacksonville Jaguars during the first half of the 2014 season.

They turned the team over to rookie quarterback Blake Bortles, the No. 3 overall selection in May’s draft.

They appear to have found a feature back in Denard Robinson, who couldn’t hold onto the ball during his rookie season because of lingering nerve damage in his hand from a hit he took as a quarterback at Michigan.

They couldn’t stop teams from scoring and regularly gave up big plays in the passing game for the first month but have been one of the league’s better defenses since.

They’ve lost key players for the season (middle linebacker Paul Posluszny and cornerback Alan Ball) and for extended periods of time (tight end Marcedes Lewis and defensive end Andre Branch).

As a result, they’re 1-8 and are battling Oakland, Tampa Bay and the New York Jets for the No. 1 pick in the 2015 draft.

Midseason MVP: Bortles hasn’t played well every week and he has thrown 13 interceptions, including four that have been returned for touchdowns. However, he also has energized an offense that was struggling under Chad Henne by being willing to take some chances and throw the ball down the field. He also has made several plays with his feet, including a couple of spin moves to avoid a rush and get free for a completion. Consider that he’s doing all of this while dealing with three rookie receivers, two rookie offensive linemen and a second-year player still learning how to be a running back. That makes his 64 percent completion percentage and 72.1 quarterback rating a lot more impressive. The Jaguars are definitely a better team with him on the field.

Biggest disappointment: The Jaguars signed running back Toby Gerhart in March to be the team’s feature back. It appeared to be a good move because Gerhart is only 27 years old with low mileage (276 carries, 77 catches in five seasons with Minnesota) and durable, missing just three games in his first four seasons. However, Gerhart was bothered by a hip flexor injury in the preseason and hurt his ankle in the season opener against Philadelphia. The injury lingered and he averaged just 2.6 yards per carry in the first five games before missing two games. He’s averaging only 2.8 yards per carry. Meanwhile, Denard Robinson has rushed for 329 yards and two TDs in the past three games and has become the Jaguars’ top back.

Best moment: There aren’t many from which to choose, but back-to-back plays that sealed the Jaguars’ first victory would top the list. The Jaguars were holding a 10-6 lead with little more than six minutes remaining in the game when Cleveland’s Jordan Poyer opted to field a punt at his own 2-yard line. The ball bounced off his facemask and LaRoy Reynolds recovered at the Browns’ 8-yard line. Robinson scored his first NFL touchdown on the next play to put the Jaguars up by 11 points. That was the highlight of a big day for Robinson, who ran for 127 yards in his third career start.

Worst moment: There are plenty from which to choose for this category, but perhaps the most significant came in the fourth quarter of the season opener against Philadelphia. The Jaguars had surprisingly taken a 17-0 lead before the Eagles rallied to tie the game. The outcome was still in doubt until Nick Foles hit a wide open Jeremy Maclin for a 68-yard TD. Wide open, as in no one within 15 yards of Maclin. Safety Chris Prosinski blew the coverage, the first of many that would occur by several players over the next three weeks. Maclin’s touchdown was part of the 138 points the defense allowed in the first four games.

Key to the second half: The defense has played well in four of the past five games and there’s no reason to think that won’t continue. So it’s up to Bortles to cut down on his turnovers and the offense to finish more drives. Bortles’ 13 interceptions lead the NFL and he’s on pace to tie Peyton Manning’s rookie record of 28. It’s not so much the number of interceptions as it is where he’s throwing them: in the red zone and deep in his own territory. The Jaguars were among the worst teams in the red zone through the first eight games: last in average yards per play (1.88), average yards per game (8.0), and Total QBR (4.2) and their third-down conversion rate was 31st (22.2 percent).