Jaguars QB Cody Kessler gets first NFL win, shrugs at ugly stats

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Cody Kessler was disappointed he didn't lead the Jacksonville Jaguars to a touchdown on Sunday, but he still ended up with a smile on his face after the game.

Getting his first victory as a starting quarterback in three NFL seasons was much more important.

"Obviously, it wasn't pretty, and there's a lot I left out there, but at the end of the day it feels good," Kessler said after the Jaguars beat the Colts 6-0 at TIAA Bank Field. "Especially for me to get the first one.

"... It's something as a quarterback and as a kid, you dream of winning an NFL game."

Kessler had been 0-8 as a starter, with all those games coming in his rookie season with the Cleveland Browns in 2016. He played solid football, completing 65.6 percent of his passes for 1,380 yards and six touchdowns with two interceptions, but the Browns won just one game that season. Robert Griffin III started that game but left in the fourth quarter because of a concussion, and Kessler finished the 20-17 Week 16 victory.

That felt good, especially because it meant the Browns wouldn't be 0-16, but Kessler saw only marginal playing time in 2017 as a backup -- and the Browns did go winless that season. The Jaguars traded a conditional seventh-round pick to the Browns for Kessler in March for him to back up Blake Bortles.

Bortles struggled after a solid first month of the season, and coach Doug Marrone benched him and fired offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett after the Jaguars lost their seventh consecutive game on Nov. 24.

Kessler completed 18 of 24 passes for 150 yards in the Jaguars' 6-0 victory against Indianapolis. He was sacked three times, scrambled out of trouble and ran five times for 28 yards, and -- most importantly -- he didn't turn the ball over. He nearly lost a fumble after being sacked by Denico Autry, but managed to corral the loose ball with one arm.

"When your defense is playing so well, you don't want to force things and make stupid turnovers to put them in a bad spot," Kessler said. "It's something for me that I took pride in there, and in the second half was like, 'Alright, things aren't going great on offense; we're not getting those shots down the field. But with how well our defense is playing, let's just be smart and take care of the ball and really drain this clock.'"

Considering the circumstances -- the Jaguars started three backups on the offensive line and at one point lost starting right tackle Jermey Parnell, running back Leonard Fournette was serving a one-game suspension and quarterbacks coach Scott Milanovich was calling plays -- right guard A.J. Cann said Kessler's performance deserves a lot of praise

"He stepped in, did a good job, [and] he was able to battle his ass of," Cann said. "He was able to step up and help us out when stuff wasn't going the way it was [supposed to]. We needed that, and that was a good job by him, having that awareness.

"I'm glad he came out with a win and was able to shut [critics] up."

One of the reasons Marrone fired Hackett and benched Bortles is because he wanted better production out of the passing game, so Kessler will need to be better on Thursday against Tennessee, which ranks in the top 10 in total defense, pass defense and scoring defense.

"I'm still getting there," Kessler said. "Obviously, I went in there confident and ... you have to win the game at the end of the day. I'd like to have all the passing yards and touchdowns, but sometimes you just have to win the game.

"No doubt this upcoming week we have to be better, for me especially, and keep getting on the same page with Keelan [Cole] and Dede [Westbrook] and Donte [Moncrief] and some of those guys. To get the first win for me it feels great, and especially to do it in Jacksonville, I'm happy."