JACKSONVILLE – The answer is there's no answer. Not yet.
Will the Jaguars' Week 1 starting quarterback be Chad Henne? Or Blake Bortles?
If you believed the question would be answered following the Jaguars' 24-23 Preseason Week 3 loss to Carolina at EverBank Field Thursday, Head Coach Doug Marrone quickly made clear no such announcement would be made.
Not Thursday night, anyway.
"I'm not going to stand up here and comment a lot on the two," Marrone said in his post-game press conference. "I'm going to go back and look at things and see where we're at."
Where the Jaguars are Thursday night is where they were all week. Their quarterback job remains very much "up for grabs," to borrow the phrase Marrone used a week ago in opening up the competition between Henne and Bortles.
It wasn't just that Marrone didn't want to make an announcement Thursday. It was more that neither quarterback made such an announcement possible.
Henne started and played five first-half series, completing eight of 14 passes for passes for 73 yards and no touchdowns with no interceptions. Bortles replaced Henne in the second half and played five series, completing 12 of 16 passes for 125 yards and a touchdown with one interception.
Henne? Or Bortles?
Marrone's post-game answer was more than what we quoted above. He expanded a bit, and said what he said throughout the week – that he wants to make sure he makes the right decision regarding the most important decision he has yet faced as head coach.
He also said the way the Jaguars' offense played – with multiple negative-yardage runs – made "it very difficult for whoever's playing quarterback."
Marrone said the decision to start Henne, the backup in the first two preseason games, was made for the simple reason that he never had seen Henne start a game. Bortles started the first two preseason games and has started the Jaguars' last 45 regular-season games. Henne was the backup for all of those games.
He also said the plan was to get both quarterbacks equal repetitions Thursday, with Henne running 29 plays and Bortles running 33. He said, too, he has no timeline for a decision.
"You'd like to say yesterday," Marrone said. "I've got time. You'd like to make the decision quick, but you want to make sure you make the right decision. That's the most important thing."
Bortles spoke after the game and said he'll continue to work to win the starting job.
"When they tell me to go play, I'll go play for as long as they let me," he said.
Henne said essentially the same thing.
"We'll find out whenever Doug or whoever's making this decision makes up their mind," Henne said. "I'll keep competing and keep working hard."
So, bottom line: We don't yet know The Answer to The Question.
And that's fine. For now. For now, there's no reason Marrone must give a final, definitive answer on who will start at quarterback Week 1 against the Houston Texans. Sure, fans want to know. Sure, media wants to know. Sure, everyone with any interest in the Jaguars wants to know.
But that's not Marrone's concern. While everyone watching may be absolutely sure that the offense has moved better with Henne in the somewhat limited sample size of his '17 first-team repetitions, Marrone wants to be certain. His wish for this week was that someone would take hold of the job, make the decision easy.
No one seemed to do that Thursday. Not enough, anyway.
Henne had a couple of nice first-half throws, and his statistics would have looked better had rookie Keelan Cole held a catchable pass deep down the sideline for a possible 82-yard touchdown. He also did not throw an interception. That's significant.
Bortles flashed in the second half with some of his best throws of the preseason. He also showed mobility and play-making ability, which could be a plus if the offensive line struggles as it has in the last two preseason games. But Bortles was playing against second- and third-team players – and his third-quarter interception …
Well, he has thrown enough interceptions in the last two seasons that every single one he throws now seems magnified.
Soon, a decision must get made. Marrone knows this, and while he won't dawdle, neither will he hurry because fans, media and anyone else concerned want to know.
The sense here before Thursday was it would be Henne. After Thursday, it's fuzzier, but it still feels as if he has the edge if only because it seems he will make fewer mistakes. That's a plus for a team that hopes to run and defend its way to victories.
What we do know is this: The answer to the biggest question around the Jaguars is there was no answer.
Not Thursday night, anyway.