For weeks, Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone has stressed that a decision on who his starting quarterback will be would be based on several factors.
The largest of those factors -- the quality of play from rookie quarterback Jake Luton -- likely sealed the deal on Marrone's impending decision in Sunday's 27-3 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
“I thought it was a tough day for him," Marrone said plainly after the game.
Tough would be putting it lightly, unfortunately. The rookie passer wasn't set up to succeed vs. the undefeated Steelers and their ferocious pass rush, but the NFL is a results-oriented business. At the end of the day, the excuses simply don't matter and what you put on the field is the only thing that can be judged.
And on Sunday, Luton put forth the worst performance of his rookie season and among the worst performances by a quarterback this season. Luton finished Sunday completing 16/37 passes (43.2%) for 151 yards (4.1 yards per attempt) and four interceptions, giving him a passer rating of 15.5.
“Probably a little bit of everything. We’re playing a defense—they’re mixing it up a bunch, pressuring enough, so there’s a lot of things going on out there. So, it was a tough day," Marrone said when Sunday when asked why it was such a rough outing for his rookie passer.
And while Luton obviously deserves a bit of leeway considering he was playing the NFL's best team and defense, the Jaguars themselves have said what it would take to force him off the field -- him playing poorly.
If they are going to adhere to their own standards, and the standards they would likely have for every other position on the field, then Sunday likely made Marrone's decision much, much easier.
It was understandable why Marrone didn't pull Luton at any point on Sunday during his four-interception performance. Mike Glennon has played plenty, and the Jaguars hadn't yet seen Luton complete his third NFL start. As Marrone noted, Luton is far from the first quarterback the Steelers have made look inferior this year.
“Yeah, I mean, they’ve been doing a lot. They’ve been doing it against everyone," Marrone said. "I kind of went back and forth a little bit and in truth, just thinking to myself, ‘Do we keep him in there? You talk about getting him experience. Is that going to give him experience? Is that good enough for where we are?’
But that protection of Luton likely evaporated the second the final second ticked during Sunday's game. He got the experience, but now Marrone must balance his poor play over the last two weeks with Minshew's recovery from a thumb injury that pushed Luton into the starting role to begin with.
"I think during the week we’ll evaluate it. I don’t think I’ll have an answer on Monday, when I get asked the question. But I think as the week goes, we’ll take a look and see what we can do, what’s the best thing for our team," Marrone said.
It is hard to make an argument that Gardner Minshew II wasn't a bit of a disappointment through his first seven starts this season. But for as poorly as he played at times, his lows paled in comparison to what Marrone and the Jaguars saw from Luton on Sunday.
For instance, Minshew has just two games in his career with a rating of below 70. The lowest rating he has ever had is a 51.4 against the New Orleans Saints last year. Minshew has thrown 11 interceptions in his career (21 games), while Luton now has six in just three games.
Whether Minshew is actually healthy enough to get back onto the field is an entirely different conversation. But once Minshew is 100% healed and ready to play, there is little argument to make for Marrone to not turn back to the quarterback he started the year off with.
Luton was put into an impossible situation with the Jaguars. He was never going to step in and save the season; that would have been foolish to ever expect.
But the hope was he would at least be able to keep his head above water. Since his debut, he hasn't been able to. The wheels came off the offense on Sunday, to the point where it is likely impossible to even evaluate the rest of the unit around Luton.
Marrone may surprise the masses and not give Minshew his job back when his thumb is healed. But if he is truly basing the decision partially on Luton's performance, then Sunday likely turned a tough decision into a necessary change.