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View from the O-Zone: “It’s on everyone”

Prime: This Blake Bortles can get Jacksonville Jaguars back to title game

JACKSONVILLE – The quarterback got benched, and a story like that in the NFL is the only story.

That doesn’t make it all that matters right now for the Jaguars, and after a third consecutive loss – this one 20-7 to the Houston Texans Sunday at TIAA Bank Field – many things matter:

*A struggling offense.

*Giveaways – too many.

*Takeaways – not enough.

*Reports of postgame discontent.

*A defense that isn’t playing as well as it – or anyone – expected.

*Figuring how to get this thing turned.

All are issues – and Head Coach Doug Marrone made clear Sunday that whether Blake Bortles continues starting at quarterback is far from the only pertinent plotline in the maddening story of the 2018 Jaguars.

“The questions are going to be, ‘Who is your starting quarterback next week?’’’ Marrone said moments after the key AFC South loss in front of 66,534 on what dawned as a perfect mid-October day in downtown Jacksonville. “The focus will be on that – but for me, it’s on everyone.”

Marrone for the record provided no answer to the question of whether Bortles or backup Cody Kessler will start against Philadelphia in London next Sunday, saying: “It’s open. Who’s the starter at right tackle? Who’s the starter at center? Who’s the starter at receiver?

“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.”

Indeed, it was that kind of postgame around the Bank Sunday, with the head coach talking about turnovers and benching the quarterback “for a damn spark” even though the entire offense was playing poorly, and players talking about how to save a slip-sliding season.

“We’re only one game behind in the AFC South, but this is a troubling time and we need to find some answers and fast,” defensive tackle Mailk Jackson said. “We let a great opportunity slip through our hands and we have to change it.”

Where else to focus on Sunday? What are the biggest issues?

One issue: reports of postgame shouting in the locker room – something not all that surprising when a team that was talking about the Super Bowl a month ago has lost three consecutive games. Linebacker Telvin Smith said afterward he didn’t speak publicly on locker-room business, and told reporters not to ask, “locker-room questions.”

He also spoke of keeping “guys together.”

“This is a message I said to the guys, that we’re going to see who loves the game right now,” Smith said. “We’re going to see who loves this team, who loves this organization, who loves each other. We’re going to have to battle and dig deep.

“We done dug ourselves in a hole. It’s going to take a lot to dig us out.”

Smith continued, “We’ve got to say, ‘Adversity’s here.’ You’ve got to be ready to step into it or it’s going to beat you all day.”

Said Marrone, “You think I’m not frustrated? We’re all frustrated. We’ve got to manage it.”

Marrone to be clear focused most of his postgame comments Sunday not specifically on Bortles, in fact saying it was unfair that he benched Bortles. “It’s not like he played worse than anyone else out there,” Marrone said, adding “But that’s the way this business is.”

Marrone’s ire was far more on the Jaguars’ three giveaways.

“The one thing that we talked about all week long, every single day, the one thing that we’ve been preaching is that we cannot turn the ball over,” Marrone said. “Obviously, it’s very frustrating.”

It was indeed after Bortles’ second turnover – a lost fumble on the first possession of the third quarter that was eerily and maddeningly similar to a lost fumble on the game’s first possession – that Kessler replaced Bortles.

Which leads to the question: What next?

What happens at quarterback is anyone’s guess, though to listen to Marrone Sunday Bortles starting against the Eagles absolutely is a possibility. Bortles, remember, lost his job temporarily last preseason before regaining it. The Jaguars made the AFC Championship Game with that as a backdrop, so Marrone has a frame of reference for Bortles overcoming adversity with positive results.

The reality is more ails this team than Bortles right now. Jaguars receivers on Sunday dropped too many passes. The offense rushed for just 68 yards. A defense that entered the season with hopes of being historically great has been very good at times, but nothing close to great.

On everyone … Is that what Marrone said? Yes, that’s fair at this point.

And yeah …

The quarterback story will be the story for the Jaguars this week – because when a quarterback gets benched in the NFL it’s the only story. But Marrone’s right.

There are a lot of other issues on this team right now.

Most notably whether enough of them can get solved to save what was once a promising season.

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