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Jags sticking with QB Kessler despite woeful, 3-game stretch

(AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton)

By MARK LONG

AP Sports Writer

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) Quarterback Cody Kessler has taken the Jacksonville Jaguars to a new low in 2018.

The Jaguars (4-10) have totaled 658 yards in three games since Kessler replaced inconsistent starter Blake Bortles, including a season-low 192 yards in a 16-13 loss to Washington on Sunday. It's the franchise's worst three-game stretch of offense since Blaine Gabbert's second year in 2012.

But coach Doug Marrone doesn't plan on switching back to Bortles for the final two games of the season, beginning at Miami (7-7) on Sunday.

"All the players, we're telling them just to be ready to go," Marrone said Monday. "It's hard to evaluate when there's a high level of inconsistency around you."

The Jaguars have apparently moved on from Bortles, the third overall pick in the 2014 draft, and want to see whether Kessler deserves to be on the roster next season. Top decision-maker Tom Coughlin and general manager Dave Caldwell traded a conditional seventh-round draft pick to Cleveland to acquire Kessler as a backup in March.

Jacksonville is expected to draft a quarterback in April and sign an experienced starter to bridge whatever gap might be needed to get the rookie onto the field. Kessler could remain as a third option. He's due to make a little more than $900,000 in 2019.

Nonetheless, Kessler isn't exactly securing his future in Jacksonville.

Kessler has led the offense to one touchdown - a second-half scoring pass in a lopsided game at Tennessee - and four field goals in 31 possessions. It's the first time in franchise history that the Jags have managed just one offensive touchdown during any three-game stretch.

"We're not being able to make plays," Marrone said. "Run-game wise, we're not being consistent enough and I'm responsible for that, so that falls on me."

Kessler completed 9 of 17 passes for 57 yards against the Redskins, failing to complete one that traveled more than 10 yards in the air. He was sacked six times, but also ran for a team-leading 68 yards. He moved the chains on four third-down scrambles and picked up another 14 yards on a third-and-long play to get Kai Forbath a closer field goal.

Although Marrone acknowledged that Bortles could provide a spark for the team's listless offense, he said it's not all Kessler's fault. Marrone pointed to protection problems and a lack of a running game for the continued struggles.

The Jaguars, who have lost nine of their last 10 games, started nine offensive players against Washington who were either backups or not on the roster when the season began in September. Running back Leonard Fournette and right guard A.J. Cann were the only two carry-overs from the opener, and Fournette touched the ball just once in the second half of a close game.

So Kessler was surrounded by several guys who wouldn't be playing had it not been for a rash of injuries.

"It's tough obviously when there's injuries and stuff like that, but that's no excuse," Kessler said. "There's plays there I should have made, whether it's running the ball or making some throws, and those guys fought as hard as they could. ... It just comes down to me finding a way to win and helping those guys out and putting them in the best position."

NOTES: The Jaguars placed rookie safety Ronnie Harrison (knee) on injured reserve. Harrison was thrust into the starting lineup after the team benched and later waived veteran Barry Church.

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Updated December 17, 2018

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