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Jacksonville Jaguars

Jacksonville Jaguars

Going from worst-to-first in the NFL’s AFC South division and a deep run into the playoffs was bound to boost ticket sales for the Jacksonville Jaguars. But the impact on the team’s fortunes is getting gaudy.

“We have more than three times the total number of deposits that we received all of last year” on potential season ticket sales, said Chad Johnson, senior vice president of sales and services for the Jaguars.

The “deposit” campaign asks for fans to make a $100 non-refundable deposit for general or $250 deposit for prime season tickets they want to purchase for the 2018 regular season. It’s usually an indicator of how well ticket sales in general will go for the upcoming season and after nearly a decade of slumping sales due to repeated losing seasons, Johnson said the turnaround is substantial as the Jaguars prepare to play the New England Patriots for the AFC Championship Sunday.

“The spike really started to happen when we solidified a home playoff game [versus the Buffalo Bills Jan. 7],” Johnson said. “It’s been pretty consistent day by day from that day on. We’ve been doing about similar numbers each day from the time of our first [home] playoff game until now.”

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But Sunday’s NFL AFC Divisional game that saw the Jaguars defeat the Steelers in their home stadium in Pittsburgh brought an even bigger spike in deposit season ticket demands. Not only were Jaguars fans excited about that game, but the franchise launched what Johnson called probably the most intense marketing campaign in team history with advertisements inundating television, radio and digital outlets.

There was a spike in deposits on Sunday afternoon and Monday said Johnson, who declined to release specific numbers of deposits on season tickets..

A phone call to the number for deposits and ticket purchases listed on the Jaguars.com ticket information led to a sales representative who said ticket prices haven’t been fixed yet. The sales representative said, “We are expecting a slight increase” in ticket prices prior to the regular season games.

“We have a fully integrated marketing campaign that includes radio, television and digital,” Johnson said. “You typically will see that we will increase our marketing efforts around the game….

“This is the strongest market push we’ve placed. Excitement is at an all-time high. The schedule for next year is great. It’s our opportunity to capitalize and continue to allow our fans to support this team,” Johnson said.

Kristi Sweeney, associate professor of sport management at University of North Florida, said she’s not surprised there’s a huge increase in demand for Jaguars season tickets. But she’s more impressed that the franchise went into advertising blitz mode and didn’t presume fans would automatically sign up for seats.

“Kudos to the Jaguars,” Sweeney said Tuesday. “Winning is a key driver in ticket sales and attendance and that’s one thing the Jaguars were lacking with over a number of seasons… .

“It’s a blitz [in advertising]. But it’s also an opportunity. So, when the opportunity presents itself, you really can’t overdo it,” Sweeney said.

Other NFL franchises such as the Steelers or Green Bay Packers routinely make the post-season tournament so they don’t have to gear up ticket campaigns such as the Jaguars did this playoff season, Sweeney said. The Jaguars still could have blown the opportunity.

“Was it overkill? I wouldn’t say it’s overkill. I think it’s taking advantage of the timing and the opportunity. When you think of how many people were watching the games, clearly they have seen a return on that investment, at least with those deposits. When people are watching those games, they think, ‘I have to buy now,’” Sweeney said.

Johnson said priority of season ticket options still rests with current season ticket holders. But those putting forth the deposits are in a position to get the next best choices.

“The timing is unique right now in that the first thing we have to do is have season ticket renewals and those typically launch two weeks after the season ends and we haven’t launched that piece yet,” Johnson said.

“What we’ve been doing now is we’ve been taking deposits for our fans who would like to purchase season tickets next year,” Johnson said.

But even if the deposit is not used to buy season tickets for the entire season, the money stays on the customer’s account so they could use it during the season to apply to group ticket purchases or mini-packs for a limited number of games which usually go on sale toward the end of the season depending on the schedule.

Current season ticket holders can renew or upgrade to different areas of the stadium, increase the number of tickets along with other options.

Then fans making the deposits get to weigh in on the purchases but only after the current season ticket holders get their choice.

“They key for the deposit and the timing is what’s most important. If you give us a deposit saying you’ll buy season tickets next year and give a financial commitment now, that will put you in line for selecting your actual locations once they are made available,” Johnson said.

The renewal process of current season ticket holders get priority. But Johnson said after that, those making deposits on potential season tickets get their bid on seats based on the time they made their deposits and it will be in that chronological order.

“After we go through that entire list [of current season ticket holders], then we will open it up to the general public,” Johnson said. “What’s most important right now, based on the volume of transactions we have and the inventory that we will have available, we anticipate that there will not be any 100 or 200 level [closest to the field] inventory season tickets remaining after we finish this deposit campaign.”

The current season ticket holders will have the chance to renew and review their options about two weeks after the last Jaguars game to be notified of their choices. Then the franchise will give those season ticket holders about a month to finalize their decision. Following that, the Jaguars open up choices for the deposit customers.

“The time line of that will fluctuate based upon the volume of deposits we have,” Johnson said.

While the Jags are one game away from going to the Super Bowl, Johnson said ultimately the windfall for the franchise from what has been a Cinderella season will be profound.

“We’re most grateful for the fans. There’s definitely an increased excitement in our office. We have no doubt that we will sell additional season tickets and that there will be a financial impact on the organization,” Johnson said. “Most importantly, we are focused on Sunday’s game. But this has been a lot of fun.”

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Arizona Cardinals

Arizona Cardinals

Two more candidates for the Cardinals’ head-coaching job became available for interviews after their teams lost in the playoffs over the weekend.

Steelers offensive line coach Mike Munchak and Falcons special teams coordinator Keith Armstrong are free to travel to Arizona for interviews if the Cardinals ask.

Cardinals defensive coordinator James Bettcher and Panthers defensive coordinator Steve Wilks also are available for second interviews.

Five of the nine candidates interviewed by the Cardinals remain in the playoffs and won’t be available for interviews until after the conference championship games next weekend.

Those include Vikings offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, Eagles quarterback coach John DeFilippo, Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia and Patriots linebackers coach Brian Flores.

Patricia reportedly is expected to be hired by the Lions, while Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels is reportedly the favorite to become the Colts coach.

The Cardinals did not interview McDaniels.

It’s not clear if there is a favorite for the Cardinals job, or if one will emerge this week.

An NFL assistant cannot be hired as a head coach until his season is over, although informal agreements have been made in the past. Last year, the 49ers waited on Kyle Shanahan, who was the Falcons offensive coordinator.

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Matt Nagy

Matt Nagy

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — When Andy Reid was looking for a new offensive coordinator for the Kansas City Chiefs two years ago, he found much to like in his quarterbacks coach, Matt Nagy.

“Matt’s got a nice feel for the game,” Reid said then in promoting Nagy. “He was a player, obviously, in the Arena League. And then we brought him on board. Some guys have a knack for it and he’s one of those guys. I’ve noticed with his participation that he’s got a pretty good grasp of the offense and defenses in this league. I think that presents a nice addition to that position.”

Nagy worked out well enough in his two seasons as the Chiefs’ offensive coordinator that others around the league started to notice. He was hired on Monday by the Chicago Bears as their new head coach.

Though just 39, Nagy has a lot of football on his résumé. He was a quarterback in college at Delaware and for six seasons in the Arena Football League. He worked his way up Reid’s staff, starting as a coaching intern with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2008 and later moving with him to the Chiefs as quarterbacks coach in 2013.

But his work with Alex Smith and the Chiefs’ other quarterbacks is what earned Nagy the promotion to offensive coordinator in 2016. The Bears were looking for a coach to work with their young quarterback, Mitch Trubisky.

“You have to be able to teach the offense to the quarterback after coach installs the plays,” Nagy said of his role in teaching QBs. “You need to be able to take that play that they’re installing and you become a teacher in your classroom. When we’re in here, I need to be my best at giving them another set of eyes to see the field, another perspective. I was fortunate enough to play the quarterback position really all my life.”

Smith, 33, had the best season of his career in 2017, setting personal records for touchdown passes (26) and yards (4,042). He was the NFL’s highest-rated passer (104.7). The Chiefs, meanwhile, went from 20th in total offense in 2016 to fifth this season.

With the Chiefs struggling on offense during this season, Reid made Nagy the primary offensive playcaller. The Chiefs, who had scored 19 points total in the two previous weeks, scored 31 in Nagy’s first game, against the Jets, and at least 26 in each of the four remaining regular-season games.

Running back Kareem Hunt had his busiest three-game stretch of the season late in the year with Nagy calling plays. Hunt rushed 78 times for 362 yards and three touchdowns in victories over the Raiders, Chargers and Dolphins.

But the Chiefs were shut out in the second half of their most important game of the season, Saturday’s playoff loss to the Titans. Any kind of score would have won the game for the Chiefs, who instead lost by one point.

Given his background, Nagy will presumably call the offensive plays as head coach for the Bears. That’s a big ask for a guy who 10 years ago was still a quarterback in the Arena League.

Nagy will handle it well if he develops as a head coach as well as he did as a quarterbacks teacher and offensive coordinator.

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Atlanta Falcons

LOS ANGELES — The Atlanta Falcons know they must win three consecutive road games to have a chance at Super Bowl redemption.

They have already nabbed the first victory, though, spoiling a festive night at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, and they seem quite confident about their chances to run the table in other people’s stadiums on the way to Minneapolis.

Matt Ryan passed for 218 yards and connected with Julio Jones for an 8-yard touchdown with 5:48 to play as last season’s NFC champions advanced from the wild-card round with a 26-13 victory over the upstart Rams on Saturday night. Devonta Freeman rushed for an early score and Matt Bryant kicked four field goals for the Falcons (11-6), the NFC’s No. 6 seed this year.

Atlanta went only 5-3 on the road in the regular season. Judging from a comprehensively solid showing against the hungry Rams (11-6), however, a tough division race in the NFC South this season and last season’s deep playoff run prepared the Falcons for the grind necessary to win back-to-back conference titles.

“We don’t care where we play these games, because we know it’s about us, not the crowd or the opponent,” Atlanta safety Ricardo Allen said.

The next place they’re headed is Philadelphia. The Falcons advanced to face the top-seeded Eagles this Saturday.

“Doesn’t matter where we’re going; we’re going,” Ryan said. “And that’s the most exciting part.”

Atlanta’s journey to the Super Bowl last season ended infamously with that blown 28-3 lead against New England and a double-overtime defeat. In their first playoff game since, the Falcons spoiled the Rams’ first postseason matchup in 13 years with a methodical performance derived from hard-earned experience.

Jones caught nine passes for 94 yards for Atlanta, which never trailed and won playoff games in consecutive seasons for the first time in franchise history. The Falcons’ defense held the NFL’s highest-scoring offense to one touchdown while muzzling running back Todd Gurley and harassing quarterback Jared Goff, who went 24-for-45 in his playoff debut.

The Rams had just six players on their roster with prior postseason appearances.

“I think having gone through these situations, understanding what it’s like, the atmosphere, those kinds of things, knowing that it’s going to be tough, all those things kind of carry forward,” Ryan said. “But at the end of the day, experience or no experience, you’ve got to execute.”

A raucous crowd of 74,300 packed the Coliseum on a crisp evening for the first NFL playoff game in the nation’s second-largest city since January 1994. Los Angeles went 21 years without pro football before the Rams returned from St. Louis last season, and in 2017 the franchise emphatically ended a 13-year streak of nonwinning seasons with an inspiring run to its first division title since 2003.

Rams wide receiver Robert Woods caught nine passes for 142 yards, but rookie Cooper Kupp scored their only touchdown late in the first half. Pro Bowl kick returner Pharoh Cooper muffed a punt and fumbled a kickoff return early, leading to 10 points for the Falcons.

Atlanta dominated by controlling the ball for 37:35, patiently running it with Freeman and Tevin Coleman. The Rams’ defense simply couldn’t get off the field in the third quarter, whether due to missed tackles or clever calls by the Falcons.

“You see why the Falcons are the defending NFC champs,” Rams coach Sean McVay said. “Certainly this is a humbling game. This is an experience that we can learn from. But I don’t think this game was too big for our guys.”

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The Miami Dolphins will hire Dowell Loggains as their new offensive coordinator, a source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

Loggains had been serving the same role for the Chicago Bears the past two seasons.

The move reunites Loggains, the Bears’ quarterbacks coach in 2015, with Adam Gase, who previously was offensive coordinator in Chicago before accepting Miami’s head-coaching job.

Gase will continue to call plays for the Dolphins.

Loggains will take over for Clyde Christensen, who is likely to remain with the Dolphins and transition to another role, the source told Schefter.

The Dolphins went 6-10 this season and finished 28th in scoring. The Bears finished 29th and went 5-11, and they fired coach John Fox on Monday.

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Carolina Panthers

Carolina Panthers

CHARLOTTE — Panthers coach Ron Rivera sent a clear message to his players Monday: Forget about Atlanta.

Rivera took only a couple questions during his press conference about his team’s uninspiring performance in a 22-10 loss to the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday before saying he was done talking about it. Rather than allow a bad New Year’s Day football hangover to linger, the two-time NFL Coach of the Year told his players it is time to move on and turn their attention to next Sunday’s NFC wild card game at New Orleans.

“The big thing that we need to do more than anything else is to move forward and get past the game we just played,” Rivera said. “Right now that game isn’t going to do anything for us.”

The Panthers had plenty of momentum entering the regular-season finale having won seven of their previous eight games.

Had Carolina beat Atlanta, they would have won the NFC South and had a home playoff game.

Now they’re limping into the postseason and likely will have to win three in a row on the road to reach the Super Bowl.

Cam Newton’s struggles in one of the worst games of his career could be cause for concern entering the postseason. Newton missed on his first eight passes against Atlanta, his throws often sailing high and wide of his intended targets and could never get on track. It hasn’t helped that the Panthers wide receiver position has been besieged by injuries, leaving Newton with a cast of no-name players .

One thing is for certain: Newton and the offense will need to be on their game Sunday against the Saints.

The Panthers (11-5) don’t appear to match up well with the Saints (11-5), particularly on defense where they’ve been unable to slow drew Brees and the NFC South champions.

New Orleans clobbered Carolina 34-13 in Charlotte in September, then beat them again 31-21 on Dec. 3 at the Superdome to take control of the NFC South.

Panthers coordinator Steve Wilks, who said he has already received interview requests for head coaching vacancies with the Giants, Colts and Lions, wants to stop the Saints running game first.

Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara found gaping holes against the Panthers, helping the Saints average 148.5 yards per game on the ground along with four touchdowns in those two games. They struggled with wrapping up Kamara and getting him to the ground.

“Their running game right now is dynamic,” Wilks said. “That is the most important thing we have to stop.”

He also said the Panthers need to be physical at the line of scrimmage with the Saints receivers to throw off Brees’ timing. Brees has had a field day against Carolina, completing 74.6 percent of his passes (47 of 63) for 465 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions.

Panthers defensive end Mario Addison points to self-inflicted mistakes in the two previous losses to New Orleans.

“It really ain’t what they’re doing, it’s really what we’re doing,” Addison said. “It’s hard to play against a team and beat yourself at the same time. That’s what we did the first two times — we beat ourselves. It ain’t that they outplayed us, because they didn’t. We just made too many mistakes.”

As for the it’s-hard-to-beat-a-team-three-times theory, well, that doesn’t hold much water in the NFL.

Since 1970, there have been 20 teams that went 2-0 against an opponent during the regular season before facing them again in the postseason. Thirteen times those teams completed the sweep by winning the playoff game.

However, Addison said losing to Saints twice benefits the Panthers.

“We can’t let them beat us three times,” Addison said. “You have to come out swinging and throw everything at them, including the kitchen sink.”

Some help could be on the way for Carolina.

Rivera said he’s optimistic that safety Kurt Coleman will be back after missing Sunday’s game with an ankle injury and running back Jonathan Stewart should return after sitting out against the Falcons with a stiff back. Also, guard Trai Turner could return if he clears the NFL concussion protocol. Turner has missed the last three games.

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New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning

New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning

One more game to go.

That might be the best news the Giants have gotten all season, an acknowledgment that this forsaken season is coming to a close.

It’s been filled with injuries and losses, firings and benchings, drama and conflict, humiliation and heartbreak. And now it’s almost over. A month after the Giants were officially eliminated from playoff contention, they can see the finish line.

After a 23-0 loss to the Cardinals on Sunday that saddled the Giants with a franchise-record 13th defeat, it was a vision of relief for at least one prominent player. Even Eli Manning seemed to be looking forward to having it all come to a conclusion.

“It’s been tough,” the quarterback said of the season. “Obviously, I think for older players, it’s tougher to go through a season where you’ve been out of the playoffs for a while and the team’s struggling. You only have so many more opportunities left. So it’s been tough. But yeah, I think after next week, we’ll just kind of look forward to moving on.”

Before they can do that, though, there is the unpleasant necessity of facing Washington in the finale. Neither team has anything to play for in terms of standings, and it’s expected to be a cold, miserable New Year’s Eve day in the Meadowlands. So let’s just say MetLife Stadium does not figure to be filled to capacity for the contest.

Add to that the idea that many Giants fans likely would prefer to see their team lose to secure a better draft pick, and it promises to be an ugly ending to an ugly year.

“I know one thing for sure, my son is going to be there supporting me,” defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul said. “I have one fan supporting me, and that’s all that matters.”

Getting ready for such drudgery undoubtedly will be a challenge. The Giants have been able to accomplish that during the past few weeks — though with very little success in terms of victories — by convincing themselves that a chunk of the schedule remained and it would be mentally unhealthy to check out. Now, though, with the end in sight, it might be more of a challenge.

“I don’t think guys are just giving up and waiting for the season to end,” said wide receiver Sterling Shepard, who was sidelined by injuries in the two games the Giants did win and has not tasted a victory since last season’s Jan. 1 finale. “We love doing this. This is what we grew up doing.”

Pierre-Paul expressed a similar philosophy.

“I’m pretty sure guys will be pumped up to play a division game,” he said. “We need at least one win in the division . . . I’m going to be excited, I’m going to get my teammates going, and that’s how it’s going to be. Everyone knows we hate Washington.”

While the end is nigh, what lies beyond remains a mystery. The Giants are not expected to have a general manager in place by the time the season ends next week, and they certainly won’t have a head coach for 2018. That leaves a lot up in the air regarding personnel.

That includes the quarterback. Assuming he plays — and interim head coach Steve Spagnuolo indicated he will — Manning will appear in his 215th regular-season game as a Giant. That will tie the franchise record for games played set by Hall of Famer Michael Strahan.

Manning knows he might not get a chance to break that record, though.

“I’ll figure out next week and go from there,” he said after the loss to the Cardinals.

The Giants’ season may be ending, but the repercussions will continue for a while.

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Ezekiel Elliott

Ezekiel Elliott

ARLINGTON, Texas — Running back Ezekiel Elliott returned Sunday, but the Dallas Cowboys’ season ended anyway.

The Cowboys lost to the Seattle Seahawks 21-12, bringing to a close any playoff possibilities with their Week 17 finale against the Philadelphia Eagles next Sunday left to play.

“It’s really disappointing,” tight end Jason Witten said. “We had a chance and fought there at the end. It’s not overly complicated. Opportunities in this league are fleeting. You have to take advantage of them when you can. We just weren’t able to do that well enough.”

Sunday started well enough for the Cowboys, with the Detroit Lions losing to the Cincinnati Bengals and the Atlanta Falcons losing to the New Orleans Saints. It could have been made even better if not for the Carolina Panthers’ last-minute victory against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

But all of it meant nothing because the Dallas offense failed to score a touchdown for the fourth time this season. Quarterback Dak Prescott was intercepted twice and saw a pick returned for a touchdown for the fourth time this season when Justin Coleman came away with an errant dump-off to Elliott on the Cowboys’ second play of the second half.

Wide receiver Dez Bryant, meanwhile, had perhaps his lowest moment with the Cowboys (8-7), dropping a first-quarter pass, fumbling a second-quarter reception and dropping a third-quarter dump-down.

Bryant’s fumble was turned into Seattle’s first touchdown, and his drop in the third quarter led to the Seahawks’ third. In the first half, two special-teams penalties negated great field position, and a Geoff Swaim crackback penalty turned a third-and-2 into third-and-15, forcing the Cowboys to take a Dan Bailey field goal.

The Cowboys did what they wanted to do running the ball. Elliott finished with 97 yards on 24 carries in his first game since Nov. 5 because of a six-game suspension.

But they have only themselves to blame for not going to him more.

Dallas’ most egregious error came in the fourth quarter. Trailing by 9 points, the Cowboys were at the Seattle 3 with less than eight minutes to play. With the entire AT&T Stadium crowd crying for an Elliott handoff, offensive coordinator Scott Linehan instead called a pass that resulted in Prescott scrambling for 1 yard. On second-and-goal, Linehan called for Prescott to sprint out to the right, eschewing Elliott once again, and Witten was called for holding.

Prescott was sacked for an 11-yard loss on the next snap, and the Cowboys were ultimately forced to settle for another Bailey field-goal attempt from 34 yards. For the first time since 2014, Bailey missed between 30-39 yards when he pushed his kick right.

Elliott’s seven rushing touchdowns were good enough to be tied for fifth in the NFL entering Week 16, despite missing six games. He had 15 rushing touchdowns as a rookie in 2016.

But Linehan failed to go to him when it mattered most.

After the game, Jason Garrett said Prescott had a run/pass option on first down and chose to go with the pass based on Seattle’s defense. “When you look back on those plays and they don’t work out, it’s very easy to do that,” Garrett said of the second-guessing. “Again, I think we are one of the better red zone teams in the league. Running the ball has been a part of it, the run/pass options have been a part of it and then throwing the ball. In that particular case, it didn’t work out well for us. … Obviously, Zeke is a very good player. We like him and we give him plenty of opportunities. In that particular case, it didn’t work out for us and that was a big part of the game.”

Elliott did not second-guess the playcalling. “They coach and I play,” he said.

That missed opportunity effectively ended the Cowboys’ chances of making the playoffs and ended their season, although Bailey missed another attempt with a minute to play that would have cut Seattle’s lead to 6 points.

There is one game left to play, but the ramifications will be for jobs on this team or another for players and coaches in 2018.

The Cowboys can look back at the Seattle loss as a crusher, but their season was put in a bind with Elliott’s suspension. The team’s losing streak in the first three games without their star running back effectively ended it. Sunday just made it final.

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James Conner

PITTSBURGH — Steelers rookie running back James Conner will undergo knee surgery after an injury suffered Sunday against the Patriots, a source told ESPN.

A timetable for Conner’s recovery is unclear, but he’s likely done for the regular season.

Conner was injured on a 2-yard run with 9:54 left in the fourth quarter. For the year, the third-round pick has 144 yards and zero touchdowns on 32 carries.

NFL Network first reported the news.

Conner inspired college football when he returned to the Pitt football team and got drafted after beating Hodgkin’s lymphoma. For parts of the offseason, Conner’s No. 30 Steelers jersey was the top seller among NFL rookies.

The Steelers could look to add free-agent help at running back behind Le’Veon Bell. Fitzgerald Toussaint is the only other running back on the 53-man roster. Terrell Watson is on the practice squad.

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Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles

Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles

After the Houston Texans were blown out 45-7 by the Jacksonville Jaguars, defensive end Jadeveon Clowney was asked if Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles is improving. The defensive end replied to reporters, “He’s trash.”

On Sunday, Bortles completed 21 of 29 passes for 326 yards and three touchdowns. He finished with a passer rating of 143.8. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Bortles became the first quarterback in Jaguars history to throw multiple touchdowns without an interception in three straight games.

In the month of December, Bortles has thrown for 903 yards with seven touchdowns and zero interceptions.

Last week, Seattle Seahawks safety Earl Thomas told reporters that the loss to the Jaguars was tough because they lost to “a subpar quarterback.”

In the Jaguars’ locker room after the game, Bortles’ teammates praised his recent play.

“His reads are sharp,” tight end Marcedes Lewis said. “He knows pre-snap what he wants to do. You can see him out there. He’s 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.”

Added Jaguars defensive tackle Malik Jackson: “I’m just glad he’s able to turn it around and I’m glad he’s doing what we knew he could do and I’m glad he’s proving himself that he can do it. He chose one hell of a year to pick it up, so I’m happy.”