By Mark Blumenthal
JACKSONVILLE — When it goes bad, it goes bad. And it has the last month for the Jacksonville Jaguars.
On Sunday, the Jaguars lost their fourth straight game to fall to 4-8, committed 16 penalties for 125 yards, and now have a Monday dilemma into who their starting quarterback is, all this after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defeated the Jaguars, 28-11, at T.I.A.A. Bank Field.
“Me and Nick are both going to be quarterbacks for this team. We’re going to do everything we can to lead it and help us win games,” said Gardner Minshew II, who came into the game in relief of starter Nick Foles and was 16-of-27 passing for 147 yards and a touchdown and interception. As for who the starting quarterback will be on Sunday when the Jaguars host the fading Los Angeles Chargers, Foles simply said, “No.”
Jaguars coach Doug Marrone, who most likely is playing for his job the last four games of the season, said after the loss he had not talked to either Foles or Minshew on their feelings and who he was leaning toward starting next Sunday.
“I haven’t spoken to them and I’ve always believed in doing things the right thing,” Marrone said. “I’ve got to talk to them first. It’s obviously emotional right now and we’re really disappointed. I’ll talk to them before any announcement comes out. It’s the right thing to do, though it may not feel right for the fans, but I’ve got to continue to do things the right way.”
It was obvious from Minshew taking control in the second half that being a more mobile quarterback helped get him out of possible danger. On back-to-back drives in the third quarter and in the fourth, he got the Jaguars on the board, setting up a Josh Lambo 53-yard field goal, then driving the Jaguars 54 yards on four plays, capping it off with a 3-yard touchdown pass to Dede Westbrook, followed by a 2-point conversion pass to Westbrook, cutting the lead to 25-11.
And the Jaguars were on the move again behind Minshew on the next drive, getting to the Bucs’ 1. But after two unsuccessful plays to get the ball in, Minshew fired a pass Westbrook’s way that glanced off his hands and into the arms of Buccaneers cornerback Sean Murray-Bunting with 6:06 left in the game. Matt Gay added a 37-yard field goal with 2:19 left to play to put the final touches on the victory, making the Bucs 5-7 for the season in their first year under new coach Bruce Arians.
“Yeah, that is one thing that you can take and build off for a very long time,” Arians said of the Murphy-Bunting interception. “For Sean to come up with that interception and to stop them a couple of times and force them to throw the football, that is something you can really build on.”
Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston had a big afternoon, throwing for 268 yards on 21-of-33 passes. Though he did not have a touchdown pass, he didn’t throw an interception either, which has been a point of contention with Winston’s up-and-down season. Peyton Barber scored a pair of touchdowns on runs of 15 yards and 1 yard in the first half and the defense came up huge against Foles after Devin White, who had picked off Foles earlier in the game, came up with a fumble return of 14 yards after Shaquil Barrett had strip-sacked him.
Overall, Foles was 7-of-14 passing for 93 yards and had the interception. He also lost the ball on fumbles twice to the Bucs, forcing Marrone to pull the signed free-agent quarterback for Minshew, the sixth-round pick out of Washington State.
“This is not an easy game … a tough situation,” Foles said afterward. “I know where my heart and faith is and what I’m going to lean on in this time with the good and bad. You never want to go through it, but I’m going to look at the bright things and keep my head held high.”
This was Foles’ second start of the season at T.I.A.A. Bank Field. In his debut on Sept. 8 against the Kansas City Chiefs, his clavicle was broken on the second Jaguars drive of the year while throwing a touchdown pass to D.J. Chark. He was out for the next two months letting the clavicle heal and allowing Minshew to get the start. The Jaguars went 4-4 under Minshew. Since the bye week, though, Foles is 0-3 in starts at Indianapolis, Tennessee and now at home against the Buccaneers.
“That’s a tough part of the game. It will test you,” Foles said. “Ultimately, you want what’s best for your team and keep moving forward. Unfortunately, there were some mistakes made and it’s just part of it. And I understand this game and this part of the game. But I’ve also been a part of turning things around. It’s not easy, but I’m going to stay positive and continue to believe. Ultimately, we are under trial. It’s been up and down and all over the place. If you approach it the right way, it’s how you can build on it. Ultimately, we have to handle it and handle it in the way to impact people and not point fingers.”
But it’s always about winning and the Jaguars are looking at another under-.500 season if they lose to the Chargers or the Oakland Raiders and Atlanta Falcons away or at home in the finale on Dec. 29 against the Colts.
“We’re all in this together,” Minshew said. “When (Foles) is out on the field, I’m there with him. When I’m out on the field, he’s there with me. We’re all battling this together; we’re all trying to figure out what we have to do to get this thing turned around.”
“We just have to lock in until we get an advantage over our opportunity,” defensive lineman Calais Campbell said. “Frustration is a part of the game. It’s an emotional game and when things don’t go right, we are going to have some frustration. But we have to use that to prepare us to be the best that we can and also lock in so that way, at the end of the day, we will be able to come out with a win as a team.”