Inside Slant

The Sports Xchange

December 27, 2018 at 1:43 am.

Bortles back as Jaguars QB

When Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone benched Blake Bortles with five games left in the season and handed the starting quarterback job to Cody Kessler, it was assumed that Bortles had taken his last snap as a Jaguar as long as Kessler stayed healthy.

Once a quarterback is benched, a team rarely goes back to him.

Even when Kessler put only one touchdown on the board in his first three starts, Marrone said he never considered benching Kessler.

And when Kessler suffered a shoulder injury late in the first half in Miami a week ago and had to leave the game briefly, Marrone went back to Kessler at the start of the second half with the score tied 7-7.

But then Marrone finally went back to Bortles during the third quarter and he engineered a field-goal drive to put the Jaguars ahead 10-7 and on the next series, linebacker Telvin Smith came up with a pick-six to ice the game.

Bortles completed 5 of 6 passes for 39 yards and ran four times for 25 more yards. Kessler completed 12 of 17 passes for 106 yards. He was sacked five times and lost a fumble for the third consecutive game when his arm was cocked to throw and he wasn’t hit.

After the game, Marrone declined to name the starter for the game Sunday against the Texans, but it was no surprise when he named Bortles the starter on Wednesday.

It is not so much an endorsement of Bortles as a recognition that Kessler simply isn’t an NFL caliber quarterback and probably won’t be back as a backup next year. He led the Jaguars to only two touchdowns in 37 possessions as a starter and completed 65 percent of his passes for 709 yards with two touchdowns, two interceptions. He was sacked 22 times, including 18 in his four starts.

Kessler’s benching also raised more questions about the Jaguars ability to judge quarterbacks. He started eight games as a rookie in Cleveland and lost them all but somehow the Jaguars thought he was good enough to be a backup.

As far as Bortles’ future goes, it is assumed the Jaguars will be looking for a quarterback in the draft or free agency or both next year.

Marrone said he is making the move because Bortles’ mobility gives them a better chance to win against a “very tough” Texans team although he fumbled twice in the first Texans game.

The Associated Press predicted they will draft a quarterback early in the draft and sign a veteran to play until the rookie is ready, but then the Jaguars have made so many unorthodox moves at quarterback that it is impossible to predict what they might do.

Still, it is likely the Texans game will be Bortles’ last as a Jaguar.

Bortles probably has no trade value because of his three-year $58 million contract and the fact he has been so inconsistent in his five years on the job.

The Jaguars have shown much patience with him. When Tom Coughlin was hired to run the football operation in 2017, it was figured his first task would be to find a new quarterback.

Instead he stuck with Bortles and bypassed Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson in the first round to draft Leonard Fournette and feature a power running back in a passing era.

It worked last year when they got to the AFC title game but didn’t this year when they fell to 5-10 after a 3-1 start.

So what does Bortles think?

“I just work here, man,” he said. “I signed up for three years and until those three years are up or they let me go, I’ll play when they need me.”

He recently bought a $3.75 million home in Jacksonville but it is likely he will be renting it or selling it next year.

Bortles said it can be an excuse or “whatever” but noted the Jaguars had a lot of injuries this year.

“It’s realistic,” he said.

He insisted the Jaguars have “everything you need to be a successful team and win a Super Bowl in this league is in this locker room.”

It is likely, though, Bortles won’t be part of that future.

Among other things, he has lost to Mahomes and Watson, the two quarterbacks they bypassed in 2017, and he will face Watson for the second time in probably his last game as a Jaguar Sunday.

SERIES HISTORY: 34th regular-season meeting. Texans lead series, 20-13 and can sweep the season series with a victory for the fourth time in the last five years. The Texans swept the Jaguars from 2013 to 2016 but the Jaguars swept the Texans last year. In the first game this year between the two teams, the Texans won 20-7 to give them a 7-2 edge in the last five years. Blake Bortles fumbled twice in the game and was benched for Cody Kessler but Bortles returned to the starting lineup the following week.