Last year, the Jacksonville Jaguars came within a game of reaching the Super Bowl. Consequently, they entered the 2018 NFL season as one of the favorites to represent the AFC in the big game.
But as we approach the halfway point of the season, it has become abundantly clear that the Jaguars aren’t who we thought they were. They’re currently 3-4 and have lost three straight games, including a 40-7 drubbing at the hands of the Dallas Cowboys in Week 6.
Jacksonville is still very alive in the AFC South, which is led by a 4-3 Houston Texans squad that has won four straight games. The Tennessee Titans also sit at 3-4, while the Indianapolis Colts are two games out of first place at 2-5. So the division is obviously still there for the taking.
But if the Jaguars hope to win the AFC South and make the playoffs for the second straight year, one thing is going to have to change: their starting quarterback.
Such a change may ultimately not be enough because this is a team that is also struggling on the defensive side of the ball. And the biggest reason for the Jaguars’ offensive success last year was rookie running back Leonard Fournette, who hasn’t played since Week 2 due to a right hamstring injury. Jacksonville has won just once without Fournette, who is expected to return in November following the Jaguars’ Week 9 bye.
It’s quite obvious that Jacksonville has to try something, though, because quarterback Blake Bortles has struggled this season. He had a career-low 16 giveaways (13 interceptions, three lost fumbles) last year. However, the 26-year-old already has 11 giveaways (eight interceptions, three lost fumbles) in seven games in 2018.
The Jaguars signed Bortles to a three-year, $54 million contract extension during the offseason. Unfortunately, he hasn’t rewarded their faith, particularly over the past three weeks. In the month of October, Bortles has eight giveaways (five interceptions, three lost fumbles) for a team that has averaged just 9.3 points per game.
Unfortunately, Jacksonville doesn’t have much to turn to. Cody Kessler is their second-string quarterback, and he’s 0-8 as a starter (albeit with the Cleveland Browns in 2016). And Tanner Lee is a rookie who has yet to see any action.
Bortles was actually benched in favor of Kessler during the third quarter of Sunday’s 20-7 loss to the Texans, and the third-year pro performed well after taking over. He completed 21 of 30 passes for 156 yards and one touchdown against one interception.
When asked about the quarterback competition, Jaguars head coach Doug Marron simply said, “It’s open.” He added the following via Michael DiRocco of ESPN.com, seemingly downplaying Bortles’ poor play:
“Thought process was you can take all 11 out, you don’t have enough people to put in. Thought process: ‘Hey listen, I’m going to take the quarterback out.’ Not like he had he played worse than anyone out there. He had two fumbles. I just literally did it to try and get a damn spark from this football team to put everyone on notice. They have to focus and go out there and play better. At points in second half they did it. That’s not fair to the QB, but that’s how the business is … Questions will be who is your starting QB next week, focus will be on that. For me, it is on everyone.”
But it is undoubtedly time for the Jaguars to make a permanent change under center. They can still win the AFC South and might do so simply by winning about half of their games.
Kessler deserves to start Sunday’s game against the Philadelphia Eagles in London. He played well enough against the Texans to earn that opportunity. Bortles did not.
Last season was a great one for the Jaguars, and Bortles deserves credit for what he was able to do during a career year. But this year he appears to have come back down to earth.
The Jaguars may not be who we thought they were, but Bortles seems to be exactly who we thought he was.