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Cardinals host awkward reunion of all 3 Jaguars QB busts

The ghosts of Jaguars quarterback past will all have a hand in the Week 12 matchup.

NFL: Arizona Cardinals Practice Tom Tingle-USA TODAY Sports

When Blaine Gabbert faces the Jacksonville Jaguars defense Sunday, it’ll be the first time he’s played against the team that drafted him in the first round six years ago. Now with the Arizona Cardinals, Gabbert is the starter again with Carson Palmer nursing a broken arm and backup Drew Stanton dealing with a knee injury. Gabbert is also coached by Byron Leftwich — a first-round pick for the Jaguars in 2003.

Gabbert, Leftwich and current Jaguars starter Blake Bortles are the only three quarterbacks the team has ever taken in the first round. And all three will have a significant hand in a Week 12 game between the Cardinals and Jaguars.

It’s the Jaguars’ zombie apocalypse.

Each was a top-10 pick and fell firmly into the bust category for Jacksonville, making Sunday an awkward reminder of a long era of futility for the Jaguars.

Leftwich struggled with injuries in his four seasons with the Jaguars before he was released in 2007. After bouncing around the league as a backup, he entered the coaching ranks as a Cardinals intern in 2016 and quickly rose to become the team’s quarterbacks coach earlier this year. Sunday will be his first time coaching against the Jaguars.

Gabbert was in his third season in Jacksonville when he was replaced in the starting lineup by Chad Henne in 2013. He was traded to the San Francisco 49ers the next offseason — two months before Bortles was drafted — and joined the Cardinals three years later as a free agent.

Despite his rocky tenure with the Jaguars — which included a coach on the team anonymously calling him “Blame” Gabbert — the Cardinals’ quarterback is entering his reunion game with no hard feelings.

“Everything happens for a reason,” Gabbert told reporters this week. “I’m a firm believer in that, and it didn’t work out there. There were things in my control, some things out of my control, but for whatever reason, it just didn’t work. I wouldn’t change it at all. I learned a lot, met a lot of great people there.”

His matchup against the Jacksonville defense may not go as smoothly as his solid showing against the Texans in Week 11, though. The Jaguars are 7-3 on the back of a dominant defense that is No. 1 in the NFL in points allowed, yards allowed, passing yards allowed, and turnovers forced.

The team has won four straight in spite of Bortles — a fourth-year quarterback who has been turnover prone throughout his career and looks like a long shot to be the Jaguars’ starter in 2018.

Still, this Jaguars team is rolling and Sunday could look a lot more like Gabbert’s time on “shitty teams” in the past than his recent success.