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 DE Yannick Ngakoue hinting he’s gone again?
One of the key free-agent questions for the Jaguars continues to be whether or not they’re going to allow their best pass rusher, Yannick Ngakoue, to test the free-agent market coming up? And, once again, the player may be giving a clue that he’s going to do just that.
Ngakoue tweeted Wednesday morning the following phrase, which seems to indicate, yet again, that he will be playing somewhere else in 2020:
— Yannick Ngakoue (@YannickNgakoue) February 26, 2020
This goes along with something that we wrote earlier in January. That’s when just a couple of days after the season Ngakoue posted essentially a goodbye message to Jaguar fans. This came on the heels of him having held out for a new contract for the first few days of training camp last August, but not receiving a new deal during the season, etc.
Ngakoue, whose 37.5 career sacks are the most by a Jaguars player after 63 career games, is sure to be a sought-after player from many different teams. GM Dave Caldwell said at the end of the season when asked about re-sgning his star pass rusher, “He is a tremendous player and even a better person. How he handled his business this year was tremendous. But, I would say that’s priority No. 1, to make sure he comes back to Jacksonville. Hopefully, we can get that done. ″
It’s also worth noting that at Tuesday’s NFL Scouting Combine at media availability in Indianapolis, coach Doug Marrone repeated that he wants Ngakoue to remain in Jaguars teal and white:
Doug Marrone: ‘’No doubt where I stand or the coaches.”
—They want Yannick Ngakoue back. pic.twitter.com/vOorH4hH95
— John Reid (@JohnReid64) February 26, 2020
However, it remains to be seen if Marrone and Caldwell are willing to “pony up” huge money for him or even potentially, put the franchise tag on him before free agency begins next month?
Ngakoue figures to want a contract close to what the top ends are getting paid right now. Demarcus Lawrence and Frank Clark both signed five-year, over $100 million deals in 2019 and received guaranteed money that exceeded $62 million. That is massive for Jacksonville.
If the Jags opt for the “franchise tag,” then the talented end will be making around $19 million dollars, which is the current average of the top five players at his position. The Jaguars could also put the tag on him and then work on a longer term, salary cap friendly, deal that would replace the tag later in the off season.
Jaguars confirm they are declining option on DT Dareus
At Tuesday’s media session at the NFL Scouting Combine, Jaguars GM Dave Caldwell made official what had been rumored for the last couple of days regarding defensive tackle Marcell Dareus: he will not be brought back for a fourth season in Jacksonville.
Caldwell confirmed the Jaguars are not picking up DT Marcell Dareus' option.
— John Reid (@JohnReid64) February 25, 2020
Dareus only played briefly in 2019, as he suffered a core muscle injury that sidelined him after only six games and he was placed on injured reserve. The former number one pick of the Buffalo Bills had played for coach Doug Marrone for a couple of seasons in Western New York.
Marrone and Caldwell traded for Dareus during the 2017 season and he helped them with their rise to the AFC South title and two playoff wins. This included Darius registering two sacks and four other tackles-for-loss in the Jaguars three playoff games that year.
Dareus made the Pro Bowl twice in Buffalo in 2013-14.
However, he has not lived up to his hefty contract that was reworked Jacksonville last February. Last season, Dareus made over $8 million dollars and the team would have been on the hook for $20 million this year had they picked up the option. That obviously wasn’t going to happen.
Dareus also has had legal troubles off the field, including a civil suit against him in Tampa for alleged sexual misconduct. As we wrote previously, a woman alleged that Dareus had sexually assaulted her in January of 2018 at a North Tampa Florida home, while Dareus was in town for the Alabama-Clemson College Football Playoff Championship Game.
However, that suit filed in Hillsborough County court was “dismissed with prejudice” last April, which means it cannot be re-filed.
Dareus, if healthy after the core muscle injury rehab, may have some value as a defensive tackle on the free agent market.
As for the Jaguars, they have former #1 pick defensive tackle Taven Bryan to play more in the middle and are trying to decide if free agent-to-be, DE Yannick Ngakoue, can be afforded for their 2020 salary cap?