Jaguars lose temper in locker room after Blake Bortles benched in loss

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Jacksonville Jaguars have an open quarterback competition after coach Doug Marrone benched Blake Bortles early in the third quarter of Sunday's 20-7 loss to Houston.

And a really frustrated team, too.

Tempers flared in the postgame locker room at TIAA Bank Field after the team's third consecutive loss. No punches were thrown but players were yelling at each other and at one point -- when the locker room doors were opened prematurely to allow the media to enter -- defensive end Calais Campbell was seen restraining defensive end Yannick Ngakoue, and players could clearly be heard shouting.

It's a clear sign that the Jaguars' recent struggles run deeper than just injuries, poor quarterback play, a supposed elite defense that suddenly can't stop the run, and turnovers.

"You all walk in here, you all see how it is in here, you all see how we vibe with each other, you all see how we vibe towards the coaches," cornerback Jalen Ramsey said. "You all see how it is. It is no secret what's going on here right now. Ain't nobody going to say it because we can't, but it ain't no secret what's going on and it ain't right, right now.

"It is what it is."

Here's what it is: a crisis.

The Jaguars, who were 10 minutes away from playing in the Super Bowl last season, suddenly find themselves at 3-4 after a 3-1 start that included a blowout victory over New England. They've lost the past three games by a combined score of 90-28 -- which includes a 57-0 margin in the first half -- and are now last in the NFL in turnover ratio at minus-12.

They're down to their third-string left tackle. They're playing a fullback at tight end. The offensive line is banged up and not playing well. And no one seems to know when running back Leonard Fournette (hamstring) is going to return.

Nobody on offense is playing well, and Marrone finally had enough. After watching Bortles lose his second fumble of the day, Marrone went with Cody Kessler, whom the team acquired from Cleveland for a conditional seventh-round pick in March.

However, Marrone said the benching was more about the offense's overall ineptitude than just about Bortles' poor play over the past few weeks.

"Thought process was you [can't] take all 11 out -- you don't have enough people to put in," Marrone said. "Thought process: 'Hey, listen. I'm going to take the quarterback out.' Not like he had 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 the second half, they did it. That's not fair to the quarterback, but that's how the business is."

Bortles had completed six of 12 passes for 61 yards against the Texans at the time he was benched. He lost a fumble on the third offensive play of the game, which led to a field goal, and lost another on the third play of the second half. The Texans scored on a 10-yard pass from Deshaun Watson to DeAndre Hopkins two plays later for a 20-0 lead.

At that point the Jaguars had committed nine turnovers in a little more than 10 quarters. Bortles had eight, including four interceptions and a fumble in a Week 5 loss at Kansas City. The Jaguars turned it over one more time against the Texans when Kessler's pass bounced off T.J. Yeldon's hands and was intercepted.

"I'm focused on how we stop turning the ball over," Marrone said. "It's hard for me, in my mind, to sit here right now and try to say, 'If we can do this, we can do ...' We can't do s--- until we stop turning the ball over. Period. That's just how it is."

As for the starting quarterback job, Marrone said it will be up for grabs this week as the Jaguars prepare for their annual game at London's Wembley Stadium.

Bortles, the third overall pick in 2014, had started 67 consecutive games for the Jaguars since he took over for Chad Henne in the second half of Week 3 during his rookie season. The Jaguars benched Bortles for Week 3 of the 2017 preseason, but he won the job back and went on to have the best season of his career: 21 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. He had averaged 21 turnovers per season in his first three years but cut that number to 16 in 2017.

"You keep your head down and keep working," Bortles said. "That's all I've ever done my whole life. It's all I really know how to do. I think it's the only thing you can do in this situation. Show up with a positive attitude and get ready to play next week. Whether I play or not is not up to me, so I'll be ready to go."

Kessler finished 21-of-30 passing for 156 yards and one touchdown. In addition to the one turnover, he also was sacked four times and fumbled once (offensive lineman Josh Walker recovered). He said he's not going to change his approach this week.

"I'm just going to keep doing what I've been doing since I got here: competing and helping the quarterback room in any way I can," Kessler said. "Whether it's scout team or getting some reps, just got to keep that same mindset whether you're the starter or last string. You've just got to always prepare to be ready to go."

Quarterback may not be the only personnel change, either. Marrone said he's so frustrated at the way the Jaguars have played the past three weeks -- all losses and being outscored 90-28 -- he's going to make everyone fight for their job this week.

"Who's the starter at right tackle?" Marrone said. "Who's the starter at center? Who's the starter at receiver? Who's the starter? Everything is open. We've lost three straight games and we can't stop shooting ourselves in the foot for lack of a better expression.

"We've got to do something, but the first thing we've got to do is stop turning the damn ball over. Period."