The frenzied plays are marvelous. The game-winning drive to cap a stunning second half was unforgettable. Yet, the play that made Jacksonville’s last-second, 26-24 victory over Denver possible was so subtle most people probably didn’t even notice.
As Gardner Minshew set up from the Jacksonville 7-yard line with 2:57 remaining in the third quarter, trailing 17-13 with the Denver defense looking to gain control of the game, he stepped toward the line and communicated with his offense linemen.
He also communicated with running back Leonard Fournette, who pointed right where he was about to run. And run. And run. After Minshew communicated with his line, Fournette took a handoff and rumbled 81 yards for a gain that completely changed the momentum of the game.
RUN FOURNETTE RUN!
— PFF Fantasy Football (@PFF_Fantasy) September 29, 2019
Two plays later, Minshew added another one of his highlights with an 18-yard touchdown pass that gave Jacksonville the lead after it had been so thoroughly dominated in the first half.
In that first half, Minshew seemed to return to reality, looking like the young-and-limited passer most scouts thought he was coming out of Washington State. In third quarter, “Uncle Rico” stared down the Broncos and threw the ball over the Rocky Mountains.
Or something like that.
Minshew’s frenetic style of scrambling within the pocket and sometimes outside of it has made him a cult hero in Jacksonville and around the NFL. When combined with his ridiculously awesome mustache, Minshew looks exactly like a character from a Will Ferrell movie. He could be the lead for Boogie Nights: The Comedy.
It’s completely nuts to watch.
But within all of that, there is genius. The audible or check or communication – whatever that was in the third quarter – was perfect and changed the game. Even the two crazy scrambles he had on the 16-play, 10-minute touchdown drive Jacksonville had to open the second half are a result of something most people don’t notice about great passers.
On both of those scrambles, Minshew kept his eyes downfield, refusing to give in to the pressure around him. Where so many young quarterbacks start looking around for where the pass rushers are, the way you really survive in football is to keep looking for a receiver. All the great passers do that, whether it’s Russell Wilson, Ben Roethlisberger, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning or Dan Marino way back when.
Minshew has that quality and it’s not something that can be taught. If it could, Denver fans might still be cheering for Paxton Lynch instead of hoping that Joe Flacco can keep them afloat until Drew Lock is ready.
As for Jacksonville, the Jaguars continue to have hope because they have a backup quarterback who seemingly has enough ability to get them through a stretch until Nick Foles is ready to play. To expect much more of Minshew is a bit unfair. As the first half in Denver showed, there are limitations to his game.
As much fun as the crazy scrambles are to watch, that’s not exactly a long-term plan for success. The Jaguars are 2-2 and tied for first place in a division where no team is likely to break from the pack. If Minshew can keep them at .500, that could be enough.
It would be, like Sunday, a subtle victory.
Jaguars welcomed back Foles but poor play still there
Sunday was supposed to be a game for a new start for the Jaguars. Off a terrible performance in London against the Texans two weeks ago, the Jaguars were also welcoming back a free agent quarterback that was supposed to be a difference-maker in their offense. Unfortunately, when it was over in Indianapolis, not much changed as the Colts easily dispatched Jacksonville 33-13.
Things started off well enough with Nick Foles leading a quick touchdown drive on Jacksonville’s opening possession. In fact Foles even picked up where he left off in his first game. In the opener against Kansas City he threw a touchdown pass to D.J. Chark on the play where he also fractured his collar bone.
Well, on Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium, his next touchdown of the season was also to Chark, who caught a pass over the middle, raced 34 yards for a score and a 7-0 lead:
— NFL (@NFL) November 17, 2019
However, the Colts demonstrated that it’s not just the start of the game. Rather, it’s everything that happens from then on. And from then on, they really dominated Jacksonville.
Quarterback Jacoby Brissett was back after missing last week’s loss to the Dolphins with a sprained knee and was solid throwing for one TD and rushing for another TD. Former USF running back Marlon Mack had 109 yards rushing and a touchdown before leaving the game with an injured hand. And, the Indy defense showed themselves to be stingy, again. This after they have already stifled the likes of Patrick Mahomes, Matt Ryan and Deshaun Watson.
Leonard Fournette never got going on the ground for Jacksonville finishing with just 23 yards on eight carries. And, after the initial touchdown, the Jags either punted, Foles threw his pick or they lost the ball on downs on their next eight possessions.
Foles couldn’t muster much, as Jacksonville fell further and further behind. He did get a very late touchdown in the final minute, again to Chark to pad his stats, which finished 33-47, 296 yds. and the 2 TDs with 1 INT.
The outcome is most disappointing for Jaguar fans who wanted to see their team climb back into the race for the wild card and maybe the division. However, this is now two decisive losses to division foes making even their biggest fans wonder if the season isn’t headed south. Jacksonville must turn it around, when they are back on the road next week against the Tennessee Titans.
To be fair, it was only Foles first full game back and he should be given at least another week or two before we start judging how effective he can be.
The problem is at 4-6, Jacksonville can’t afford many more losses to stay in the hunt.
Return of Jaguars QB Foles leads our Sunday primer
All three state teams are in action on Sunday with the Bucs and Dolphins hosting divisional opponents at home and the Jaguars and the key AFC South match up on the road.
Let’s start with the Jaguars, who will welcome back prize free agent quarterback Nick Foles (above) for the first time in 10 weeks. This after Foles suffered a left broken collarbone in the first quarter of his first game with Jacksonville in Week one against Kansas City.
Foles comes back to a situation where a rookie quarterback Gardner Minshew helped the Jaguars win four games in his absence and have the Jaguars at least in contention in the AFC South. Jacksonville must get running back Leonard Fournette back on track, as when last we saw him, he registered only 40 yards rushing in the 26 – 3 loss to the Texans in London two weeks ago.
The Colts will welcome back quarterback Jacoby Brissett, who missed last week’s loss at home to the lowly Dolphins do to a sprained knee. Brissett has been a pleasant surprise since taking over on the eve of the season for the abruptly retired Andrew Luck.
This is the first of two meetings on the year for Jacksonville and Indy, as they will play at TIAA Bank Field to end the season week 17.
Meanwhile, in Tampa, the Buccaneers host the first place New Orleans Saints in an NFC South matchup. The Bucs won dramatically over Arizona last, week when Jameis Winston led the game-winning Drive of 92 yards in the final 3 minutes for a 30 – 27 win. Winston is still under scrutiny after throwing two more interceptions a week ago and has 14 on the year to lead the NFL.
The Saints were humbled at home by a 1-7 Atlanta team last week. Not only did the Falcons defeat them, but their defense held Drew Brees and Co. to just nine points; the lowest output since he became the Saints starting quarterback 14 seasons ago.
The Buccaneers secondary is in flux after they released former number 1 pick, Vernon Hargreaves, earlier this week for lack of hustle and productivity under first-year coordinator Todd Bowles’ new defense. Tampa Bay will go with rookies Sean Murphy-Bunting and Jamel Dean. And, the Bucs better be ready for the best pass-catching receiver in the NFL, Michael Thomas.
As for the Dolphins, we did not think we would write the sentence: they have a chance for a three-game win streak, especially after an 0-7 horrendous start. However, that’s exactly what’s at stake as they play longtime AFC East rival Buffalo at Hard Rock Stadium.
Solid play by veteran quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, timely defense by Miami and some clutch field goal kicking from Jason Sanders last week has enabled Miami to perk up and win their last two games. Sanders kicked three field goals and was named the AFC Special Teams Player of the Week in the 16 – 12 win over the Colts a week ago.
Buffalo started the year 6 – 2 but played poorly in the second half of last week’s loss to the Browns. Second-year quarterback Josh Allen will try to get them back on the winning track this week. The Bill’s already own a victory last month in Western New York over the Fins.
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