Blake Bortles gets final start of season for Jaguars

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Jaguars are going back to quarterback Blake Bortles for the season finale at Houston this Sunday.

Coach Doug Marrone made the announcement on Wednesday afternoon, citing Bortles' athletic ability behind a struggling offensive line as a major reason for choosing Bortles over Cody Kessler, who had started the past four games.

"We just feel like his mobility will give us a better chance against obviously a very tough team," Marrone said.

The Texans (10-5) can clinch the AFC South -- and possibly a first-round bye or home-field advantage in the playoffs depending on the results of other games -- with a victory over the Jaguars (5-10) at NRG Stadium. This will be Bortles' first start since Nov. 25, when he threw for 127 yards and a touchdown with two interceptions in the Jaguars' 24-21 loss at Buffalo.

"It feels good anytime to play football when they let you play," Bortles said. "I know for me at least I enjoy the hell out of getting to come to work every day and practice with these guys. This is our last week, our last opportunity to play a game together as this team. Nobody knows what's going to happen next year, so I think most importantly just enjoying this.

"It's obviously not the year, the season everybody expected or wish would have happened, but we get one more opportunity and we're going to make the best of it."

The Bills game was the fourth time in six games that Bortles had failed to reach 150 passing yards, and Marrone benched him and fired offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett the next day. Kessler, whom the Jaguars acquired in an offseason trade with Cleveland for a conditional seventh-round pick, started the next four games. He threw for 553 yards, one touchdown and one interception, and was sacked 18 times in that stretch. The Jaguars went 2-2 in those games, though Bortles relieved Kessler late in the third quarter of last Sunday's game against Miami and led the Jaguars to a game-winning field goal.

The Jaguars' offensive line has been a mess most of the second half of the season because of injuries. Four of the team's five starters in the season opener are now on injured reserve, and two of the current starters are players that were not with the team until October.

Bortles is a much better athlete and runner than Kessler and is currently sixth on the team's all-time rushing list with 1,760 yards. He is one of four players in NFL history to pass for at least 15,000 yards and rush for at least 1,500 yards in their first five seasons. Russell Wilson, Cam Newton and Jeff Garcia are the others.

Bortles getting the start likely doesn't change the franchise's decision to move on from him after the season. He has played poorly this season and leads the NFL in turnovers (93) and interceptions (74) since he entered the league in 2014 as the third overall pick. While he also is second in franchise history in passing yards (17,539) and passing touchdowns (103) in 72 starts, his maddening inconsistency is making the franchise start over at the position.

Bortles likely will be released in the offseason, just 11 months after he agreed to a three-year, $54 million contract extension with $26.5 million guaranteed. He carries a salary-cap figure of $21 million and a dead-cap figure of $16.5 million in 2019. The Jaguars are expected to draft a quarterback with their first pick -- and potentially sign a free agent to be a bridge quarterback as well.

Bortles said he's hoping he can remain in Jacksonville but right now has no knowledge of what the team plans to do.

"The toughest part about it is you have no idea," he said. "It's not like anybody tells me anything or talks to my agent or tells him what they're going to do with me, so it's kind of just unknown. I would imagine most people that go through situations like this or anything close to it, there's just a lot of unknown. Obviously here right now, got one more chance, one more opportunity to play this week and finish this year out, and then kind of they're in control of what happens for me next. So whatever happens, I'll be ready.

"I signed a contract here for three years so I've got every reason and purpose in my mind to play here for that amount of time or until they let me go. Then I'll figure that out."