JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) – Blake Bortles was poised in the pocket and nearly perfect in one series of work, a significant improvement from the way his preseason started a year ago.
Bortles completed 6 of 9 passes for 53 yards and scored on a short bootleg in Jacksonville’s 24-20 loss to New Orleans in the exhibition opener for both teams Thursday night.
Bortles had a five-interception performance during a training camp practice in 2017 and continued to struggle during joint practices with New England. He was benched two weeks into the preseason and had to earn the starting job back.
A year later, his spot is as solid as just about anyone’s on the team. It showed against the Saints.
Playing without two starting offensive linemen – left guard Andrew Norwell (calf) and right tackle Jermey Parnell (precaution) – Bortles led the Jaguars on a 15-play, 79-yard drive to open the game. He converted both third-down passes he faced and finished off the series by going untouched around the right side.
“It’s a good way to start,” Jaguars coach Doug Marrone said.
Saints star Drew Brees got the night off, allowing backup Tom Savage to play the first half. Savage completed 10 of 14 passes for 70 yards. Brees only played in one preseason game in 2017.
“Early in the game, offensively and defensively, we struggled,” Saints coach Sean Payton said. “There’s a lot we have to get cleaned up. We struggled the whole night, fundamental basic stuff. We had trouble with who’s on the ball, where our split is. We’ve got to go back to square one with some of that because that didn’t look good. It wasn’t a smooth operation.”
Mark Ingram, suspended the first four games of the regular season for violating NFL policy on performance enhancers, carried seven times for 23 yards and a touchdown. Ingram scored against Jacksonville’s backups and after a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty kept the drive alive.
Jacksonville cornerback Jalen Ramsey, linebacker Telvin Smith, and running backs Leonard Fournette and T.J. Yeldon remained in the locker room during the national anthem.
“It was a personal thing, man,” Fournette said. “Don’t really want to get into it. Everybody has their own beliefs and certain things. … I’m not really trying to get into it. It’s just something I believe in. I ain’t really trying to go into details about it. Just more focused on my teammates right now.”
Yeldon said he “just didn’t want to come out” during the anthem. Ramsey was no longer in the locker room when reporters entered after the game.
Smith offered the most insight, but declined to answers specific questions.
“As a man, I got certain beliefs,” said Smith, who wore “Salute the Service” cleats. “You know what I mean? This is not going to become a distraction, and Jacksonville’s not going to become a distraction for this team. I got beliefs. I did what I did. I don’t know if it’s going to be every week, can’t answer if it’s going to be every week.
“But as a man I’ve got to stand for something. I love my team, I’m dedicated to my teammates, and that’s what we’re talking about. I did what I did. It was love. I hope people see it and respect it. I respect views.”
The Saints overcame a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter to win. Jayrone Elliott’s strip-sack set up rookie Jonathan Williams’ 4-yard touchdown run with 2:16 remaining. Elliott had another strip-sack late in the game, but the Jaguars recovered.
Jaguars backup quarterback Cody Kessler completed 14 of 17 passes for 139 yards, with a touchdown . Jacksonville acquired Kessler in a trade with Cleveland in March.
Saints backup cornerback P.J. Williams appeared to get the wind knocked out him while making a tackle. He jogged to the bench but later headed to the locker room. … The Jaguars had 10 guys who didn’t suit up, including All-Pro defensive end Calais Campbell (calf) and rookie defensive lineman Taven Bryan (abdomen).
Saints host Arizona next Friday night.
Jaguars travel to Minnesota on Tuesday for two joint practices with the Vikings before their exhibition game on Aug. 18.