Chad Henne shines after Blaine Gabbert suffers another injury
In one of his four starts last season for the Dolphins, Chad Henne was at the mercy of Houston’s defense. En route to a 23-13 home loss on Sept. 18, Henne completed just 40 percent of his passes (12 for 30) and chalked up a paltry 56.3 QB rating.
One year later, sporting a different uniform, Henne is finding the going a little easier against the Texans.
Replacing an injured Blaine Gabbert for the second consecutive week, Henne led three Jacksonville scoring drives in the first half. Gabbert injured his elbow on the Jaguars’ first possession — Danieal Manning hit him and forced a fumble, which the Texans recovered.
At first, the Jaguars announced that Gabbert was probable to return with a contusion. Following a pair of touchdown tosses by Henne — a 13-yarder to Marcedes Lewis and a 67-yarder to Cecil Shorts — that prognosis changed and Gabbert was downgraded to questionable.
Maybe, but it also might have been a way for the Jaguars to ride their hot hand at QB rather than force Gabbert back into action. Even though Gabbert’s statistics have improved pretty much across the board this season, the Jaguars entered Sunday at 1-8 and with significant questions about their future plans at quarterback.
Jacksonville added Henne in the offseason for just this situation: to provide a seasoned backup option if Gabbert fell to injury or struggled. So far this season, he’s done both.
And this time, Henne took advantage. He didn’t stop with the Lewis and Shorts touchdowns. All told, Henne went 16 of 33 for 354 yards and four touchdowns, almost leading Jacksonville to an improbable upset over the Texans.
Henne’s play against the Texans could really open the door on a controversy in Jacksonville. Gabbert was the franchise’s first-round pick in 2011, at No. 10, and he was a starter immediately, with the Jaguars hoping that he could develop rapidly. However, with minimal help from the pieces around him, he’s struggled to take the next step — a problem made all the more frustrating by the success of several young quarterbacks, league-wide.
Also in Henne’s favor as the Jaguars decide who should be their quarterback is the fact that he was able to do something Gabbert has failed at thus far — sparking rookie first-rounder Justin Blackmon in the passing game. Blackmon entered Week 11 with just 250 yards and a touchdown on the season, and hadn’t topped 67 yards in any one game. On Sunday, the fifth overall pick basically matched his season-long production, with 7 catches for 236 yards and a touchdown. His 81-yard score early in the fourth quarter put the Jags up by 14, before the Texans stormed back to force overtime.
With Jacksonville headed toward another high draft pick (possibly No. 1 overall), the temptation will be there to roll the dice on another quarterback. Henne, 0-4 last season with Miami and 13-18 in his career, is just 27 years old, meaning that he too could figure somehow into the Jaguars’ future plans.
The Jaguars have stuck by Gabbert’s side throughout his first two seasons thus far. Sunday’s surprising turn of events might force them to reconsider.