Amid the NFL’s longest active losing streak, Jaguars coach Doug Marrone is standing by quarterback Blake Bortles and his entire coaching staff.
Marrone on Monday declared Bortles his starter Sunday at Buffalo and said no staff changes would be made in the wake of a disheartening 20-16 loss to Pittsburgh, which dropped the Jaguars to 3-7 and further into last place in the AFC South.
The Jaguars’ sixth straight loss featured the largest blown home lead in franchise history (16 points) and possibly the ugliest second half this season. But it was not enough to warrant change other than the release of third-team quarterback Landry Jones, whose roster spot was filled by offensive lineman Corey Robinson.
“At times like this, people are going to ask those questions, and we’re continually trying to work together to try to figure out a way to put this complete game in, to do a better job from my standpoint to the coaches and to the players,” Marrone said.
In success and failure, results often start and end with the quarterback. And Bortles wasn’t good enough against the Steelers, particularly during a second half when the Jaguars totaled just 74 yards and went three-and-out five times.
Bortles finished the game 10-of-18 passing for 104 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions. In 10 games this season, Bortles has thrown for 12 touchdowns and committed 12 total turnovers (eight interceptions, four lost fumbles).
There were several plays the Jaguars would probably like to have back against the Steelers. Perhaps most notably when they led 16-6 and had possession at Pittsburgh’s 39-yard line with about 12 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.
On second-and-8, Bortles appeared to have receiver Donte Moncrief open on a simple slant pattern but opted not to throw the ball after faking a hand-off to tailback Carlos Hyde. The result was a 9-yard sack, which pushed the Jaguars out of field goal range. Bortles was sacked again the next play.
That was one of two Jaguars drives that began in Steelers territory and resulted in a punt. A third instance produced a first-half field goal by Josh Lambo.
Marrone declined to weigh in on whether he believes Bortles’ confidence is shaken because of earlier struggles this season. Whatever the reason, there is a clear disconnect between the quarterback and his receivers, who combined to catch five passes (on 11 targets) for 45 yards.
Leonard Fournette did most of the damage, running for 95 yards and a touchdown on 28 carries and catching two passes for a team-high 46 yards.
“I don’t know,” Marrone said of Bortles’ confidence. “I think he can better answer that question. I can’t get into his mind.”
Of the missed opportunity to Moncrief, Marrone said: “He had to put his eyes down for the play-action pass, and when he came back up, he just didn’t feel comfortable doing it. We all have to do a better job putting him in position where he can feel comfortable and he can go ahead and let it rip.”
Bortles wasn’t given an opportunity to pass the final time the Jaguars had possession with the lead, but Marrone indicated that No. 5 did have the choice to keep the ball and run on third-and-5 from the Jaguars’ 30.
Bortles appeared to have running room around the left side of the offensive line. Instead, he handed off to Fournette, who was stopped for a gain of 1 after two previous runs went for 4 and 1 yards. The Jaguars punted, and the Steelers won on the ensuing possession when quarterback Ben Roethlisberger fought his way into the end zone from 1 yard out.
Did Marrone have enough confidence in Bortles and his pass-catchers to consider throwing the ball on the decisive third down?
“My first reaction was I thought, ‘Hey, what’s the best pass we have?’ Because we weren’t doing a very good job in the play-action or the drop-back to that point and obviously the runs were inconsistent,” Marrone said. ”... We had the option of either giving it to Leonard or Blake pulling it and running, which we thought were our best two options at the time. Two things that both those guys do well and a play that we ran earlier in the game and were very successful on.”
The Jaguars have six games left to figure out how to be successful more consistently or are at risk of a disastrous end to the season, one that could cost more than Bortles and some assistants their jobs.
For better or worse, Marrone still believes he has the right people in place. So, he is turning his attention elsewhere.
“My focus right now is on trying to figure out a way to win a game,” Marrone said.