Blaine Gabbert has struggled all season in Jacksonville.
It was the offensive line, they said.
Chad Henne took just two sacks against a fierce Houston pass rush.
It was the wide receivers, they said.
Justin Blackmon and Cecil Shorts teamed up for 317 yards and two touchdowns.
It was the offensive system, they said.
Under Henne's hand, the Jaguars posted 438 yards of total offense and 37 points.
Caving under the weight of a mountain of evidence impossible to ignore, Mike Mularkey stated in his Monday press conference that the Jacksonville Jaguars will start Henne against the Tennessee Titans in Week 12.
Most telling of all was his reasoning. Yes, Gabbert is questionable, but Mularkey didn't take the out offered.
Monday, he told reporters, “Chad Henne will start this Sunday. That’s based on his performance yesterday.” (Courtesy John Oesher, Jaguars.com.)
Despite repeated assurances that Gabbert has progressed and made strides all season, the fact that a 1-9 team would openly announce they are benching their franchise quarterback regardless of health in order to start a 27-year-old veteran is significant.
Henne isn't the answer in Jacksonville, and it would be foolish to think he was. He played so poorly in training camp, preseason and against the Oakland Raiders, that he couldn't wrest the job away from arguably the worst starting quarterback in the NFL.
There's no pattern of excellence from Henne. There's just the one good game.
That's all it took for Mularkey to move away from Gabbert.
The Jaguars had the perfect excuse to announce Henne as the starter. Gabbert is questionable, after all. They could give him another audition without harming Gabbert's status as the future of the franchise.
Instead, they've declared that in a lost season, they see more value in playing Henne than continuing to protect Gabbert.
There are many reasons to name Henne the starter, but all of them are short-term in nature and none of them necessitated doing it in the manner they did.
Obviously, Jaguars fans have grown tired of the team's futility at home. They need something to energize them, and any kind of change at this point is welcome.
It's entirely possible that the move was necessary because of the effect it has on the locker room. Players know who is playing well. When a team fails to reward the best players with playing time, it hurts morale.
It could be as simple as Henne giving the Jaguars the best chance to win next Sunday. Regardless of whatever future merits Gabbert may come to possess, he doesn't have them now. Mularkey is coaching for his job, and the best way to stay employed is to win.
None of those reasons explains the need to specify that injury was not the reason for the change, however. With such an obvious out left untaken, the only way to interpret Mularkey's decision is as a no-confidence vote in Gabbert.
That's a bold, but ultimately correct move. Mularkey's work with Gabbert has been exemplary. There's no question the player has improved under his tutelage. By failing to back him now, however, Mularkey functionally washes his hands of the player and makes the unspoken argument that Gabbert is not destined to be the savior of the franchise.
Gabbert's play simply does not merit further investment as a potential franchise player. Mularkey gave him a stripped-down offense designed to accentuate what he did well and minimize exposure to failure.
The result has been a marked improvement in completion percentage and a low interception rate.
It has also been the lowest yards per attempt in football and the second lowest-scoring offense in the game. The YPA failure alone means he was unlikely to meet the basic pass/fail requirements for the second year of a potentially successful NFL starter.
Even in games in which Gabbert played relatively well, the offense was unable to score and there were abundant signs he simply lacked the basic fundamental skills necessary to become a successful quarterback at the NFL level.
With Gene Smith, the man who traded up to draft Gabbert, in trouble and his head coach unwilling to categorically endorse him, the signs increasingly point to the end of the Gabbert era in Jacksonville.
Of course, he's still young and anything is possible, but if the coach hired specifically to mold him into a star won't back him, it begs the question why anyone else would either.
Gabbert has lost his job for now.
Mularkey is hoping to save his own for the future.
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