Henne is the team’s starter for Sunday’s home game against San Diego because Gabbert is still limited with a left hamstring injury. But who will be the starter against San Francisco the following week? Or against Tennessee two weeks after that?
What coach Gus Bradley and offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch have to weigh is whether the goal of finding out if Gabbert can be the player around which the franchise is rebuilt supersedes winning games now. It would be an easier decision if the Jaguars weren’t one of three winless teams, and it’s going to get harder and harder as the losses continue to mount.
Quarterback Chad Henne has led the Jaguars to their best offensive showings this season.
This season was going to be a struggle anyway, but being tagged as one of the worst teams in NFL history wasn’t supposed to be on the table. Getting victory No. 1 is the top priority and Henne gives the Jaguars the best chance to do so because he has clearly outplayed Gabbert this season.
Henne has completed 58.4 percent of his passes for 904 yards and two touchdowns with four interceptions in five games (three starts). He has started the past two games and the Jaguars racked up season-high totals in points and yards. In his three starts Gabbert has completed 48.8 percent of his passes for 481 yards and one touchdown with seven interceptions, three of which have been returned for touchdowns.
Despite those numbers, it’s not a no-brainer for Fisch.
"I don’t think that’s the case [that Henne gives the team the best chance to win],” Fisch said. “I think we just continue to take it week to week. Unfortunately neither one has gotten a win, so I’m not able to say which guy gives us the best chance to win. The other thing is I could say that in the St. Louis game Blaine threw for 180 yards in two-and-a-half quarters, so I don’t know what it would have looked like if he played for all four quarters.
"Then this week I was happy with some of the things that Chad did, but we hold them both to a pretty high standard and both of them we get on pretty hard about the mistakes and some things that go on."
There are some extenuating circumstances for Gabbert’s poor play. He has been banged up with a fractured thumb, a cut on the back of his hand, and now the hamstring injury. He didn’t have Justin Blackmon for four games and tight end Marcedes Lewis played just two snaps because of a calf injury. The offensive line didn’t play well either, giving up 18 sacks and managing just 49.0 yards per game rushing in the first four games.
The line has played better the past two games against St. Louis and Denver, giving up just four sacks and clearing space for 167 yards on the ground. Blackmon has caught 19 passes for 326 yards over the same span. Gabbert played into the third quarter against the Rams before hurting his hamstring. Henne finished and played the entire game against the Broncos.
Again, it seems that going with Henne for the foreseeable future is the correct move, but that’s not the case.
"We’re just going to go each week," Fisch said. "Each week we’ll have our evaluation and the most important thing that we have this week is Chad needs to go out there and have a heckuva game. I think the opportunity, hopefully if we’re healthy around him, will give him a chance to succeed."
If he does and the Jaguars do get their first victory, there’s still a very good chance he’ll be back on the bench when Gabbert is cleared because Bradley has been reluctant to commit to Henne beyond this week. While that seems like it would spark controversy in the locker room, that’s not the case.
"They don’t pay me to be the head coach or the GM," Lewis said. "I’m just out there blocking and catching the ball and trying to help this offense roll. I don’t know how it’s going to be. Obviously Chad, he’s always prepared like he was the starter. He comes in, real calm demeanor, and just does his job. We’ll see what happens.
"It’s overblown as far as controversy in the locker room. I think it’s more what goes on in the front office as opposed to us in the locker room. We leave those decisions up to them. That’s their job. Our job is to go out there and when our number is called to show up. Period."
Henne has certainly done that better than Gabbert, but it might not be enough to remain on the field.