We wondered in September why the Jaguars had refused to bench Blaine Gabbert (pictured above, on his ass)—their woeful second-year quarterback—in favor of Chad Henne, their slightly below-average (serviceable!) young veteran backup. Since then, Gabbert's play has, uh, I guess we could say picked up: he now ranks 29th among qualified quarterbacks in ESPN's Total QBR stat. Gabbert shouldn't get too excited: He outranks only Mark Sanchez, Arizona's Johnvin Skolbton nightmare tandem, and poor, miserable Brandon Weeden. All the other metrics concur in conveying his wretchedness: Gabbert ranks 32nd in Football Outsiders' DYAR—defense-adjusted yards above replacement—counting stat and 33rd in Outsiders' DVOA rate stat, ahead only of Matt Cassel. If Blaine Gabbert isn't the NFL's worst starter, he's down there.
Thursday night, in the fourth quarter of Jacksonville's game against the Indianapolis Colts, when the Jaguars trailed 24-3—the last seven points of the Colts' lead having come on an easily intercepted-and-returned Gabbert out route—Gabbert hurt his nonthrowing shoulder. Enter Chad Henne. Henne played well right off the bat: he converted a second-and-16, and then he converted a fourth-and-11. He was hitting everyone, including Cecil Shorts, the Jags' actual top receiver, and Justin Blackmon, the team's pretend top receiver, who can't get open. And, most importantly, Henne had made a game from a blowout: the Jaguars were now down just two touchdowns with 9:16 left.
But Mike Mularkey followed things up by kicking deep, and Jacksonville's defense dropped its end of the bargain. Indy marched 60 yards, ate up six minutes, and kicked a field goal: game over. But Henne even performed well on the game's last drive, with little to play for. He hit Blackmon, Shorts, and Micheal Spurlock, and he turned a second-and-22 into a fourth-and-one before his pass was batted up at the line and intercepted.
Henne had made two cameos earlier in the season: one for two passes against the Texans during a blowout, and, more recently, in the second half of a game in Oakland, after another Gabbert shoulder injury. Henne did not play well, but we have some reason to excuse his poor play. Maurice Jones-Drew got hurt early in that game, too: an offense without its starting quarterback or running back would naturally be disjointed.
Against the Colts, because of the score, Henne didn't have to worry about the team's running game. He could just step up and throw—and he did. Where Gabbert wilted against the Colts' blitz, at least once scrambling backward into a sack, Henne held his own. (The Colts played a lot of soft coverages late, but they still sent the house.) He was a real quarterback, rather than Gabbert's central-casting-quarterback simulacrum.
Alas, the Jaguars' loss dropped them to 1-8, which means they will not make the playoffs. So what else could they have to play for? Certainly not their coach's job—Mike Mularkey's in his first year, under a new ownership group who hired him, so he's not going anywhere. Our sports senses tell us, then, that this is the time for "rebuilding." Glorious rebuilding, where we let our struggling players struggle so that they might triumph in the future. Problem is: Jacksonville's been "rebuilding," at least at quarterback, for a year and a half now. Maybe it's time to try prefab.