It took 13 games for the Jacksonville Jaguars to give quarterback Blake Bortles full control of the offense.
Offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett said this week that Bortles was allowed to audible from running plays to passing plays for the first time all season against Seattle. Hackett praised Bortles for switching to a pass on a second-and-6 play early in the 30-24 victory. Bortles found rookie Keelan Cole on a crossing route for a 10-yard gain that helped set up a field goal.
"He knows why the play is being called now," said Hackett, in his first full season as the team's OC. "It's not just going out there and running a play and just kind of being a robot. He's trying to understand and figure out what we're trying to accomplish. ... Blake is starting to own the offense, and that's what you want from him."
Although the Jaguars (9-4) clearly had reservations about Bortles' ability to get the team into better plays early in the season, they are trusting him more now. And for good reason: Bortles is the NFL's highest-rated passer in December, completing 71 percent of his passes the last two games for 577 yards, with four touchdowns, no interceptions and no sacks.
And now he's getting more control.
"We started giving him the green light because obviously people are trying to stop the run and put a lot of people in there," Hackett said. "It's like, 'OK, Blake, you've got to start picking it up.'"
THE FORCE IS STRONG WITH AARON: Aaron Rodgers is such a big fan of "Star Wars" that the avatar for his Instagram account is an illustration of the Green Bay Packers quarterback dressed as a "Jedi."
But Rodgers probably won't have time to catch the latest installment of the blockbuster series when "The Last Jedi" opens this weekend in theaters. Preparing for the Carolina Panthers takes precedence as he gets ready for his first action since missing seven games with a collarbone injury.
"This week is a little busy," Rodgers said when asked Wednesday if he would see the movie. "I am excited, I'm a big Star Wars fan. I actually got my —I think I'm wearing a Star Wars shirt today. I am, you've got to take my word for it, but it's a Star Wars shirt."
He was spotted in the locker room later wearing a retro-looking Star Wars shirt after cleaning up following practice.
OH, SNAP!: When New York Jets long snapper Thomas Hennessy went down with a head injury at Denver last Sunday, special teams coordinator Brant Boyer turned to tight end Eric Tomlinson — who had never snapped in a game at any level in his life.
"It's funny because when I walked up to him I said, 'Hey, man, you're up,'" Boyer recalled. "And typical Tomlinson, he looked up at me and said, 'I got you Boyer,' and gives me knuckles. He's that kind of guy, though, so he was great."
The 25-year-old Tomlinson ended up launching seven snaps to punter Lachlan Edwards in the Jets' 23-0 loss to the Broncos.
"There were some that were iffy," Tomlinson said with a big grin. "They were all right."
The Jets have been working a few days a week with Tomlinson since last season after Boyer asked if anyone wanted to give it a shot as the emergency snapper. And, aside from a few balls that were a bit high or a little low, all of Tomlinson's snaps reached Edwards.
"Lach did a great job with that," Tomlinson said. "I wasn't even worried about protection. I was just worried about getting the snap to him. Lach did a good job, and the whole punt team, of protecting and Lach catching them to get the ball off."
Boyer was impressed by how quickly Tomlinson adjusted to his new role.
"Seven punts with a backup long snapper, I don't know how often that's been done," Boyer said. "Give Tomlinson the Purple Heart of the week. He did a hell of a job. It was awesome to see."
Hennessy was limited in practice on Wednesday and Thursday, but was expected to be available for the Jets' game at New Orleans on Sunday. That means Tomlinson can go back to his usual job of blocking defenders and catching passes.
"It gave me a good perspective of what they go through," Tomlinson said of long snappers. "It was fun, though. It was good to try a little something different."
CAREERS IN FOOTBALL FORUM: More than 100 students from 33 historically black colleges and universities participated in the second annual Careers In Football Forum as part of the Celebration Bowl in Atlanta.
The Careers in Football Forum is an extension of the NFL's broader partnership with the HBCUs. Through the partnership, the NFL and participating institutions aim to provide qualified individuals with the preparation and skills needed to secure employment in professional football administration.
"It is imperative for the future of football that there is a sustainable pipeline of qualified, well-educated candidates to fill the many positions that make our great game so successful," says Troy Vincent, NFL executive vice president of football operations and a former pro player. "Our partnership with HBCUs is aimed at equipping and providing networking opportunities to those who have a passion to pursue a career in football."
The forum featured panel discussions with NFL leadership and club executives, mock interviews facilitated by NFL Human Resources personnel, and skill-building workshops.
"Once again, the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference is honored to partner with the NFL to provide opportunities for our students during the week of the Celebration Bowl," MEAC Commissioner Dr. Dennis E. Thomas said. "Having the opportunity to network with NFL front office, human resource and team personnel who have walked in the same shoes as our current student-athletes is invaluable, and an experience that should mold them as they achieve their professional goals."
The Southwestern Athletic Conference also took part. There are 23 MEAC and SWAC institutions.
EVERYBODY CAN VOTE: The Dolphins have every player on the roster registered as a voter. The initiative started in June when the Dolphins hosted Martin Luther King III and Bill Wachtel of the Drum Major Institute at practice to start the voter registration process.
Such voter registration success comes on the heels of an announcement by team owner Stephen Ross and Dolphins players of the creation of a yearly fund for advocacy and social justice programs. The fund will provide financial support and amplify programs centered on community engagement, education and justice reform.
"I salute the Miami Dolphins for their leadership in realizing upon my father's dream of a society where all Americans can and do vote," said King III. "Today, we celebrate the fact that every player on the Dolphins roster is a registered voter. What makes this truly special is that this voter registration effort, which was begun by Kenny Stills, has been spreading throughout the NFL and other sports leagues.
"As my father often said, that short step into the voting booth is the longest stride for democracy."
AP Pro Football Writer Barry Wilner and Sports Writers Dennis Waszak Jr., Mark Long and Genaro C. Armas contributed.