Blake Bortles is the Jacksonville Jaguars' starting quarterback for Sunday's game against the Philadelphia Eagles, but he knows he could permanently lose that job if he continues to turn the ball over the way he has the past three weeks.
Yet Bortles says that is not going to affect the way he plays.
"You've just got to go play. I don't think you can worry about it," Bortles said after Friday's practice at Allianz Park in London in his first media opportunity since he was reinstated as starter. "You can't play the position and play the game constantly worrying about, 'What happens if I make a mistake?'
"I've always kind of played fearless and not scared to make the mistake. I think that's allowed me to make some plays, but in saying that, I've got to also be smart and obviously take calculated risks and make sure whatever I'm doing is putting us in position to score."
Bortles hasn't done that the past three weeks. After his second lost fumble early in the second half of a 20-7 loss to the Houston Texans, coach Doug Marrone sent him to the bench in favor of backup Cody Kessler.
At that point, the Jaguars had committed nine turnovers in a little more than 10 quarters. Bortles had eight, including four interceptions and a fumble in a Week 5 loss at Kansas City. He also hadn't led the Jaguars to any first-half points in losses to the Chiefs, Cowboys and Texans. Kessler led the Jaguars to a touchdown but also fumbled when he was sacked and had a pass bounce off running back T.J. Yeldon's hands for an interception.
After rewatching the game Sunday night and Monday, Marrone opted to stick with Bortles as his starter. Marrone said he is treating quarterback the same way he would any other spot: Bortles holds on to the job until it's clear that his performance is hurting the team without being attributed to other factors.
"I've got to go play, be smart, take care of the football," Bortles said. "Do the things that kind of we've always preached, things that are obviously important as far as playing quarterback. Get completions, be efficient, move the chains, score points and, most importantly, take care of the ball."
Another area he wants to improve: Getting off to a fast start. The Jaguars scored on their opening possessions in their three victories (Giants, Patriots, Jets) but have failed to score on opening drives in their four losses. That includes losing a fumble on the third offensive snap against the Texans.
"It's kind of been our thing this year. When we start fast, we play well and win, and when we don't, it's equal to a loss," Bortles said. "Although you don't want to have it like that. You want to be able to, if you don't start fast, find ways to make adjustments, score points and be competitive regardless. But in knowing that, we've got to, I think, put that much [more] importance on the start and how we come out of the gate and expect to start fast and want to score touchdowns right away.
"If we don't, then we've got to find ways to still score throughout the game and get it together."
Part of the slow starts can be attributed to injuries to running back Leonard Fournette, along the offensive line and at tight end, and inconsistent play along the line and at wide receiver. The Jaguars traded for running back Carlos Hyde last week, and he is expected to make his Jaguars debut Sunday, which should help since Fournette will miss his fourth consecutive game and sixth overall with a hamstring injury.
Sunday's game is critical for the Jaguars (3-4) to keep from falling two games behind Houston (5-3) in the AFC South. It's also important for Bortles' future with the franchise. The criticism, calls for a permanent benching and quarterback trade rumors this week have been at an all-time high since Bortles' arrival as the third overall pick in 2014. Although he recently signed a three-year contract extension and has a salary-cap figure of $21.5 million and dead money figure of $16.5 million in 2019, the Jaguars may opt to find another quarterback if Bortles can't turn his season around.
Bortles said he feels no additional pressure, though.
"There's been pressure it seems like since I got to Jacksonville, so it's kind of normal," Bortles said. "I think there's pressure at every position at all times in the NFL. If you're not getting the job done or playing well or being successful, they'll eventually replace you and find somebody else that can.
"... I think I've always kind of had an ability to ignore it, I guess -- the outside noise or the pressure or whatever you want to call it -- and kind of just focus on going and playing football. I've always just thought and believed [if] you win football games, eventually the noise will go away. That's all I want to do. I try to do whatever I can to help this team win. Obviously the past couple weeks haven't been great, and we're looking forward to changing that script this week."