Blake Bortles leads Jags to victory, but finale QB still undecided

Michael DiRoccoESPN Staff Writer3 Minute Read

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- The Jacksonville Jaguars were Blake Bortles' team again -- for almost 16 minutes Sunday afternoon, anyway.

After watching starter Cody Kessler repeatedly get battered behind a makeshift offensive line for nearly three quarters, coach Doug Marrone re-inserted Bortles into the lineup in the hopes it would spark an offense that had managed only two touchdowns since Nov. 25.

Bortles led the Jaguars to what turned out to be the winning field goal on his first drive in Sunday's 17-7 victory over the Dolphins, but Marrone has no idea which quarterback will start Sunday's season finale at Houston.

"We couldn't hold up in protection," Marrone said afterward the win at Hard Rock Stadium. "Everyone saw that out there, and my thought process was, 'Hey, listen, let's put Blake in there and let's get the zone-read run game going, and that's what we did and he came out there and made a couple plays and we were able to win the game.

"I'm not ready to answer a question of who's going to be the quarterback moving forward."

Blake Bortles completed 5-of-6 passes in relief of Cody Kessler.Jasen Vinlove/USA TODAY Sports

It might depend on how Kessler’s right shoulder feels. He hurt it when he was sacked by Dolphins defensive end Robert Quinn with 4:16 left in the first half. Bortles entered the game then, completed a pass, and then got sacked.

Kessler returned to start the third quarter and was sacked twice more (along with another that was wiped out by a penalty) before Marrone made the switch back to Bortles.

Kessler, wearing a large ice bag on his shoulder after the game, said he was fine and that he understood why Marrone benched him.

"He talked to me and stuff," Kessler said. "As a competitor you want to be out there, but at the same time I told Blake after the game, 'There's no one else I'd rather have a one-two punch [in] the game with,' but being a competitor you want to stay out there and finish the game off."

Sunday was Bortles' first action since Nov. 25, when he completed 12-of-23 passes for 127 yards in a 24-21 loss at Buffalo. That was the fourth time in a six-game stretch in which he threw for fewer than 150 yards, and Marrone benched him and fired offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett the following day.

Bortles ended up completing 5-of-6 passes for 39 yards and running four times for 25 yards in what could be the last time he'll play for the Jaguars.

"I don't know. I just work here," Bortles said. "I signed up for three years so until those three years are up or until they let me go, I'll play when they need me."

What Bortles did Sunday certainly won't change the franchise's decision to move on from him after the season. He leads the NFL in turnovers (93) and interceptions (74) since he entered the league in 2014 as the third overall pick, and while he also is second in franchise history in passing yards (17,539) and passing touchdowns (103) in 72 starts, his maddening inconsistency is making the franchise start over at the position.

Bortles probably will be released in the offseason and the Jaguars (5-10) are expected to draft a quarterback with their first pick -- and potentially sign a free agent to be a bridge quarterback as well. But for one afternoon, he earned a small bit of redemption.

"Everybody gets criticized, especially when you have a tough year like this, but Blake, he gets even more," cornerback Jalen Ramsey said. "He gets tons, so to see him be able to come in there and lead those guys down the field and add some points, no matter if it's three, whatever, then that's dope. They moved the ball well when he got in there. He had some good runs. It was exciting to see."

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