Just three weeks ago, when the San Francisco 49ers were 1-10, their Christmas Eve matchup with the Jacksonville Jaguars seemed likely to attract little intention.
But now it is suddenly an intriguing matchup between two young quarterbacks who’ve been on fire the last three weeks.
Jimmy Garoppolo has led the 49ers to three consecutive victories since taking over as quarterback and now is being hailed as the team’s franchise quarterback of the future.
But the victories were against the Bears, Texans and Titans. The Jaguars defense, the best in the league, will present him with his toughest challenge yet.
While Jimmy G is trying to establish his reputation, Blake Bortles of the Jaguars is trying to change his reputation.
As recently as the third week of training camp, there were some doubts he’d even start the season. The Jaguars even started Chad Henne in the third exhibition game before deciding to stick with Bortles.
And even though the Jaguars started out 7-4, Bortles lost to teams quarterbacked by Blaine Gabbert and Josh McCown. And Bortles threw two interceptions in the final two minutes against the Chargers, only to have the defense bail him out.
But the last three weeks since the Arizona loss, Bortles has played lights out as the Jaguars clinched a playoff spot for the first time since 2007.
But the three wins were over Indianapolis, an injury riddled Seattle team and Houston, which means he is still not gaining much respect.
After Houston was crushed by the Jaguars, Jadeveon Clowney called Bortles “trash.’’ That prompted Jaguar fans to order trash cans sent to Clowney at the Texans headquarter.
Bortles handled the situation well, saying, “If the way we’re playing is trash, then I’m fine with being trash.’’
Unlike Garoppolo, Bortles hasn’t yet been called the team’s franchise quarterback There are still questions whether he is the long term answer.
That is why Bortles faces all the pressure when he duels Garoppolo. The Jaguars are better and are favored, but the game is on the West Coast where the Jaguars have typically have had problems.
Bortles still has to prove to the skeptics that the new Bortles is here to stay and won’t revert to the way he’s played much of his career.
If the Jaguars win, they clinch the division, although they also clinch if the Titans lose to the Rams.
A Jaguars win would mean more vindication for their Trashman.