JACKSONVILLE – Blake Bortles is back.
That was the major news around the Jaguars as the season's final week began Wednesday, and Bortles' reaction was as might be expected. He's ready and excited.
"As a football player, it feels good any time you play football – and they let you play," Bortles said as the Jaguars (5-10) prepared to play the Houston Texans (10-5) at NRG Stadium in the 2018 regular-season finale in Houston, Texas, Sunday at 1 p.m.
"I enjoy the hell out of getting to come to work every day and practice with these guys. It's our last opportunity to play a game together as this team. Nobody knows what's going to happen next year. I think we'll just enjoy this.
"It's not the year everybody expected or wished would have happened, but we get one more opportunity. We're going to make the best of it."
Bortles, who started 72 consecutive Jaguars games before being replaced by Cody Kessler for the last four games, replaced Kessler in the third quarter of a 17-7 victory over the Miami Dolphins last Sunday. Bortles quarterbacked the go-ahead field goal drive in the game.
Head Coach Doug Marrone on Wednesday named him the starter, and teammates later in the day expressed excitement at the decision.
"When things go good, he doesn't get enough credit," safety Tashaun Gipson said. "When things go bad, he gets all the blame. So, me personally … I'm excited for the guy."
Defensive end Calais Campbell said he was "very excited" about Bortles starting.
"Blake is a guy I have a lot of respect for," Campbell said. "I'm excited to see him taking this opportunity. Who knows what's going to happen in the future? But this is an opportunity for him to go out there and show what he can do.
"For all of us, really – everybody on the field – we don't know who's going to be here next year. This last game is a chance to go earn yourself an opportunity to do it next year. That's how it always is in this league."
Who knows what's going to happen in the future? Bortles addressed that Wednesday, saying he "definitely" considered the question at times during four weeks not starting. Bortles, the No. 3 overall selection in the 2014 NFL Draft, signed a three-year extension this past offseason but there has been speculation since his benching that he could be released in the offseason.
"The toughest part about it is you have no idea," Bortles said. "It's not like anybody tells me anything or talks to my agent and tells me what they're going to do with me. It's kind of just unknown. … Obviously I'm here right now and I've got one more opportunity to play this week and finish this year out. They're in control of what happens to me next. Whatever happens I'll be ready.
"I signed a contract here for three years. I have every reason and purpose in my mind to play here for that amount of time or until they let me go, and I'll figure that out."
Bortles was asked if he had gained perspective during the last month.
"Definitely," said Bortles, who has thrown for 2,611 yards and 13 touchdowns with 10 interceptions this season in 11 starts. "Watching the game from the sidelines, being there for Cody, you see it obviously not through the quarterback's eyes but as a spectator on the sidelines. It definitely was a positive as far as a mindset."
Bortles on Wednesday also discussed the difference between the Jaguars this season and last season. They won the AFC South last season and advanced to the AFC Championship Game; after a 3-1 start this season, they lost seven consecutive games and were eliminated from the postseason in early December.
The Jaguars lost key players for major stretches of the season, with wide receiver Marqise Lee missing the season with a knee injury and tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins (core muscle) and running back Corey Grant (foot) out since Week 5. Running back Leonard Fournette missed six of the first eight games with a hamstring injury, and four of the Jaguars' five starting offensive linemen – left tackle Cam Robinson (knee), right tackle Jermey Parnell (knee), left guard Andrew Norwell (ankle) and center Brandon Linder (knee) – are out for the season.
"Injuries are a thing, right?" Bortles said. "You can say it's an excuse or whatever, but it's realistic. You have guys that should be playing who got hurt and aren't playing anymore. It's tough to argue that we wouldn't be better with those guys out on the field. That's why they were starting and were paid.
"That's a realistic part of it. Earlier in the year, this year wasn't so different than last year. We were able to do some stuff last year and have some stuff go our way. This year, it didn't happen. We didn't catch those breaks didn't get those bounces and we didn't help ourselves out."