One of the underrated pleasures of covering an NFL team is the second go-round with the game film, the coveted RE-WATCH of the game you just saw and broke down live the day before. You see things you may not have noticed the first time, and you really get to internalize the ebb and flow of the game on that second watch.
That joyous activity (even in defeat, it's kind of fun, although it's more autopsy than analysis) has yielded the "Five Underrated Plays" series I've been doing here this season. Hope y'all find it useful! So, that said, I began doing the "Five Underrated Plays" post for the Texans' win over the Jaguars on Sunday. I started to watch the game for a second time, and I jotted down the plays that seem to qualify for the post...and the more I jotted, the more I realized that this was not really a football game per se.
No, indeed, Sunday was more one gigantic gift-wrapped victory from Jacksonville QB Blake Bortles. Yeah, the Texans did some things to ensure victory, but every fork in the road may as well have had Bortles standing there walking the Texans across the street in a crossing guard sash, and EverBank Field may as well have had one big "TO: Houston, FROM: Blake" tag dangling from the side of the building.
Let's take a look at the five biggest gifts that Santa Blake hath given on Sunday, shall we?
* 1st quarter, 12:07 to go
JACKSONVILLE 3rd and 6, JAX 44 yard line
PLAY: Kareem Jackson 42-yard interception return for TD
Honestly, it was fairly evident that the usual "Five Underrated Plays" post wasn't going to apply to this Texans win when I had "Texans win the coin toss" as one of the five underrated plays. Seriously, the Texans' winning the coin toss and putting Bortles on the field to start the game was a major early turning point. Nothing better than having the option of putting a QB on the field who is a virtual lock to screw up in some fashion...and screw up he did! Bortles gave the Texans an early lead (they never trailed all afternoon), he forfeited momentum and functionally he made it such that the Texans essentially started out both halves of the game with the ball. We love you, Blake!
* 2nd quarter, 12:07 to go
JACKSONVILLE 2nd and 9, HOU 44 yard line
PLAY: Bortles's aborted attempted spike turns into Whitney Mercilus fumble recovery
This play was the most "Bortles" one ever, as an attempt to abort-spike a screen pass gone awry was boinked off the foot of RB T.J. Yeldon and ricocheted right into the waiting arms of Texans LB Whitney Mercilus. This was a good series for Mercilus, who two plays earlier drew a holding call on first down that put the Jags in 1st and 20 (which is basically a guaranteed turnover or punt when Bortles is your QB). Ultimately, this turnover turned into nothing because Nick Novak was kicking like he was hungover in the first half, but it was still a fairly comedic play that will ultimately show up on the Blake Bortles "highlight" package when the Jags decide he's no longer the guy. (By the way, the reason it was a fumble recovery and not an interception is that Bortles was throwing it backwards when he spiked it off of Yeldon's foot, a nuance seemingly lost on the CBS broadcast team, who lamented what bad luck it was for Bortles, who was spiking it backwards...let me repeat: He was SPIKING IT BACKWARDS.)
* 2nd quarter, 5:25 to go
JACKSONVILLE 3rd and 12, HOU 36 yard line
PLAY: Bortles underthrows wide open Allen Robinson for what would've been a first down
As mentioned above, the Jags managed to avert going down by two scores when Novak missed a long FG attempt after the Mercilus fumble recovery. They picked up a couple of first downs into Texans territory (1st and 10 at the HOU 32 yard line), but on 3rd and 12, Jadeveon Clowney was able to disrupt Bortles just enough to have him woefully underthrow an open Allen Robinson on a play that would have moved the chains, and kept the opportunity to tie the ball game at 14 all. Instead, the Jags settled for a 54-yard field goal and a 14-10 deficit, and didn't get within three points of the Texans until the final two minutes of the game.
* 3rd quarter, 10:47 to go
JACKSONVILLE 1st and 10, HOU 44 yard line
PLAY: Bortles overthrows wide open Allen Hurns on deep route down middle of field
Early in the third quarter, the Jaguar defense was able to get off the field to start the half on a three-and-out, and the Jags offense picked up a couple of first downs on their subsequent possession. The home team finally had a little momentum. The running game and, more so, the short passing game were able to finally set up the perfect deep shot down the field...and Allen Hurns put griddle marks on Charles James's back. Unfortunately, Blake Bortles is Hurns's quarterback.
See, here's what's scary .. I'm guessing Carr/Rivers/Rodgers/Luck hit someone this open in stride ... pic.twitter.com/fdnPbI74NW— Sean Pendergast (@SeanTPendergast) November 14, 2016
Crisis averted. (Also, GET WELL SOON, A.J. BOUYE!!)
* 4th quarter, 8:04 to go
JACKSONVILLE 1st and 10, JAX 44 yard line
PLAY: Bortles underthrows wide open Marqise Lee on deep route down middle of field
Bortles was not done missing on easy touchdowns. He fulfilled his third quarter quota on the Hurns overthrow, and then came this beautiful underthrow to Marqise Lee in the fourth quarter...
..... or THIS open .... pic.twitter.com/4fmLeHwA4E— Sean Pendergast (@SeanTPendergast) November 14, 2016
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Nice "no-fly zone" from Andre Hal on a play in which he was beaten by five yards. Does he get mercilessly ridiculed in film study during the week about that? Please, if a former or current NFL player is reading this, tell me he does.
I will have plenty of whiskey ready for the next four games, in which the Texans defense goes up against Derek Carr, Philip Rivers, Aaron Rodgers and Andrew Luck. Those guys are NOT Blake Bortles. Christmas is over, kids. No more gifts.
TIME TO DRINK!
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.