Blake Bortles hasn’t been cancelled yet, but he’s going on hiatus. Amidst a flurry of changes, the Jaguars announced Monday that former Brown Cody Kessler will get the ball when Jacksonville hosts division-rival Indianapolis in Week 13. Bortles had started 72 straight games, the fifth-longest streak among active signal-callers, prior to his demotion.
Deep down, we all knew it would end this way. Aside from his inexplicably productive 2015 which included a franchise-record 35 touchdown passes (many of them coming in garbage time), Bortles’ five-year stay in Jacksonville has largely been a disappointment. Even at the time, Bortles’ selection at third overall in the 2014 draft felt ambitious. The Jaguars knew they were taking on a project in Bortles, but obviously the coaching staff and front office felt they could smooth out some of his rough edges. They could not.
Bortles’ benching was long overdue and probably should have happened a year ago. The Jaguars could have pursued Kirk Cousins in free agency last offseason or at least taken a flyer on Florida native Teddy Bridgewater, but instead they stayed the course, inking Bortles to an ill-advised three-year, $54 million extension. Even with Bortles supplying his usual brand of mediocrity, the Jaguars still came heart-breakingly close to capturing a conference title in 2017. Jacksonville was able to hide Bortles for the most part, limiting his exposure by featuring first-year workhorse Leonard Fournette. The Jaguars were expected to employ a similar approach this year, but an early-season hamstring injury to Fournette threw a wrench in that plan, forcing the overmatched Bortles into a more prominent role.
Bortles has fared miserably throughout the team’s seven-game losing skid, completing an embarrassing 57.5 percent of his passes with six touchdowns against seven interceptions during that span. The 26-year-old boasted strong measurables coming out of UCF, but his game simply hasn’t translated to the pro level. Flawed mechanically—even five years into his career, Bortles’ quirky throwing motion remains an eyesore—and prone to making panicked, off-target throws, the embattled QB was never going to be the one to lead Jacksonville to the promised land.
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Bortles has had more second chances than most. He faced competition from career backup Chad Henne in 2017, barely winning the starting job out of training camp. Bortles weathered that storm but tempted fate again this season with a dismal first half against Houston in Week 7. He was pulled from that game but returned to his starting post the following week. After years of living on the edge, Bortles messed with the bull one too many times and on Monday, he finally got the horns.
It’s ironic that Bortles’ closest comparison on PlayerProfiler.com, an advanced metrics site championed by frequent Rotoworld mock draft participant Matt Kelley (aka Fantasy Mansion), is the player he was supposed to be an upgrade on, former Jaguar Blaine Gabbert. It’s unclear if the Jaguars envision Kessler as their rest-of-season starter or if his promotion is meant to be a temporary measure while Bortles takes a week or two to clear his head. Regardless, it seems that after years of turning a blind eye to his failures, the Jaguars have come to the stark realization that Bortles simply isn’t starter material. Most of the league arrived at that conclusion years ago, but obviously GM Dave Caldwell was looking at Bortles through rose-colored glasses, hoping to recapture his brilliant 2015 campaign instead of dismissing it as the outlier that it was.
Shuffling the deck at quarterback may have been an act of self-preservation by head coach (for now) Doug Marrone, whose seat is getting warmer with each Jaguars loss. The Jaguars have the look of a sinking ship and right now, all Marrone cares about is finding a life preserver. Someone had to take the fall for Jacksonville’s struggles and that scapegoat turned out to be offensive coordinator and long-time Marrone collaborator Nathaniel Hackett, who saw his Jacksonville tenure end with Monday’s firing. His role will be absorbed by quarterbacks coach Scott Milanovich, who will also be tasked with play-calling duties for the 3-8 Jaguars.
With Kessler, a risk-averse game-manager, taking over for Bortles, the Jaguars are likely to adopt a run-heavy approach down the stretch. Unfortunately, the Jags won’t be able to lean on their star tailback Leonard Fournette this week as the 23-year-old will serve a one-game suspension (pending appeal) for brawling with Bills defensive end Shaq Lawson in Sunday’s defeat. To further complicate matters, the Jaguars will also be without top guard Andrew Norwell, who was lost to a season-ending ankle injury over the weekend. A first-team All-Pro selection with Carolina last year, Norwell holds PFF’s No. 8 pass-blocking grade among guards this season.
The Jaguars kicked off their 2018 season as a group of promising up-and-comers, but it’s taken only a few short months for them to revert to their usual cellar-dweller status. While Jacksonville’s season has quickly devolved into utter chaos, their next opponent, the 6-5 Colts, enter this week’s action riding a five-game winning streak. Monday’s moves were made in the interest of halting Jacksonville’s downward spiral, but with a scorching-hot Andrew Luck coming to town in Week 13, the floundering Jaguars may be looking at an eighth-straight loss.
Quick Hits: The Texans ran their winning streak to eight by capturing a 34-17 victory over the visiting Titans on Monday Night Football. Houston was led by Lamar Miller, who rumbled to a season-high 162 yards on just 12 carries for the 8-3 Texans. Demaryius Thomas also impressed, contributing four catches for 38 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Marcus Mariota completed 22-of-23 passes for 303 yards and two touchdowns in the losing effort … Melvin Gordon is considered week-to-week after spraining his MCL in Sunday’s win over Arizona. With Gordon a long shot to suit up, Austin Ekeler will likely draw the start at running back against Pittsburgh in Week 13 … Aqib Talib has been designated for return and will resume practicing this week. The veteran corner landed on IR after undergoing ankle surgery earlier this year … Jack Doyle was ruled out for the season after being hospitalized with a kidney injury he suffered in Week 12. Eric Ebron, who is tied for the league-lead with 11 touchdown receptions, will handle tight end responsibilities going forward for Indianapolis … In other tight end news, Jeff Heuerman suffered broken ribs and a bruised lung in Sunday’s win over Pittsburgh. Those injuries will sideline him for the remainder of 2018 … Marvin Jones landed on injured reserve with a bruised knee, which will end his season. Jones’ injury coupled with Golden Tate’s trade to Philadelphia leave the Lions extremely shorthanded at wide receiver … The Bengals placed Andy Dalton on season-ending injured reserve after tests revealed torn ligaments in his right thumb. Jeff Driskel will start in Dalton’s place with Tom Savage serving as his backup … Rex Burkhead was activated from injured reserve on Monday, putting him on track to return against the Vikings in Week 13. The Patriots running back hasn’t played since injuring his neck in Week 3 … Kenyan Drake will be limited to non-contact work at practice this week after injuring his shoulder in Sunday’s loss to Indianapolis. Drake has spent the year sharing backfield work with veteran Frank Gore in Miami … Despite a poor performance in Sunday’s loss to Tampa Bay, Nick Mullens will remain the 49ers’ starting quarterback for Week 13 against the Seahawks. C.J. Beathard is next man up for the Niners should Mullens falter … Evan Engram is “optimistic” he’ll be ready to face the Bears in Week 13. The second-year tight end sat out Sunday’s loss to Philadelphia after tweaking his hamstring in pre-game warmups … Chris Thompson resumed practicing on Monday and could be available for this week’s game against the Eagles. A rib injury has kept the receiving back out since Week 8 … Xavier Rhodes tweaked his hamstring Sunday in a win over Green Bay, though Vikings coach Mike Zimmer called the injury “very mild.” If healthy, Rhodes will likely shadow Patriots deep threat Josh Gordon in Week 13 … David Bakhtiari went for testing Monday after injuring his knee in Sunday night’s loss to Minnesota. Jason Spriggs would slide in to protect Aaron Rodgers’ blind side if Bakhtiari can’t get the green light for Week 13 … The Cardinals waived starting right tackle Andre Smith on Monday. The 31-year-old has struggled this season, earning PFF’s No. 65 pass-blocking grade out of 76 qualifiers at tackle … A hip injury will cost veteran Phil Dawson the remainder of 2018. Ex-Brown Zane Gonzalez will finish out the year as Arizona’s kicker … DeSean Jackson went to New York Monday to receive a second opinion on his injured thumb. Jackson played through the injury in Week 12, but only managed three catches for 19 yards in a win over San Francisco … Ezekiel Elliott sat out Sunday’s practice with a sore hip but returned to full participation on Monday. The third-year ball-carrier leads the NFL in rushing yards with 1,074.