Underrecruited out of Oviedo High School, an unexpected winner at the Fiesta Bowl with UCF, and, over the last two NFL seasons, a metaphorical punching bag for outspoken critics --
Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles has played the role of the underdog throughout his football career.
Sunday will be no different at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts, home of the five-time Super Bowl champions New England Patriots. The Patriots are 8.5 favorites over the Jacksonville Jaguars in the AFC Championship game.
"When you play a team that has been there seven times in a row or whatever it is that they have been there, that is kind of the bar. That is where you want to be," Bortles said Wednesday. "I think it will be a good test and a good challenge to go against a team that has been on top for a while."
Since the calendar turned to 2018, every week has brought the biggest game in Bortles' four-year NFL career and he's responded. On Jan. 7, the quarterback's team-leading 88 yards rushing and touchdown pass to Ben Koyack led to Bortles' first playoff victory.
The following Sunday, his turnover-free performance was perhaps the difference in the Jaguars' 45-42 victory over the favored Steelers in the AFC Divisional Playoff.
Along the way, Bortles has quieted critics. He has another chance this Sunday in the AFC Championship.
However, he's not looking at the game as a moment for further redemption. He's looking at it as the Jaguars' chance to get to the Super Bowl for the first time ever.
"I do not care much about what is said outside of our locker room. What I care about is in that locker room. Those are the opinions I care about, is what I am trying to say," Bortles said. "When other people say stuff or it comes from anywhere, it does not bother me. To see guys within that locker room stand up and say stuff is pretty cool. Those are the opinions that I value and the guys that I want to impress and do well for."
Yet, there is at least one person outside of the Jacksonville locker room who has expressed his respect for Bortles and the underdog Jacksonville Jaguars.
"I think we're going to have to play our best game," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said on Wednesday.
Watch the AFC Championship Sunday afternoon on News 6. Kickoff is at 3:05.
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