By Mark Blumenthal
JACKSONVILLE — Forget Minshew Mania. It was all about Sacksonville Sunday at T.I.A.A. Bank Field.
Eight sacks to be exact. These Jaguars looked like their old selves as in the 2017 version of the team that was one quarter away from going to the Super Bowl.
The Jaguars made life rough on second-year quarterback Sam Darnold and came away with a 29-15 win over the Jets, getting to the .500 mark at 4-4, all part of an up-and-down first half of the season. The Jaguars opened up with losses to Kansas City and Houston, came back with wins against Tennessee and Denver, then losses to Carolina and New Orleans before bouncing back with wins against Cincinnati and the Jets.
And all this has happened while rookie Gardner Minshew II has had to lead the offense as regular starting quarterback Nick Foles has been sidelined with a broken clavicle since the opening game against the Chiefs, the defense has had their share of injuries and the Jalen Ramsey “trade me” ultimatum became a distraction until he was finally set free in a trade to the Los Angeles Rams for two No. 1 draft choices.
And yet the team is 4-4 in spite of third-year coach Doug Marrone’s own self-criticism of the job he’s done.
“I haven’t done a great job,” Marrone said. “If I could’ve done a better job, I think we’d be in great shape. We’re 4-4 and when I look back, I regret not being able to push this team over some close games. I’m not pulling my share.”
Marrone may not think he’s pulling his share, but his defense more than made up for it on Sunday, holding the Jets’ offense to 213 total yards, and though Darnold did get touchdown passes to Ryan Griffin for 24 yards and 3 yards, one in each half, he spent a good amount of the afternoon avoiding the rush of the Jaguars’ front line. Yannick Ngakoue and Josh Allen had two sacks and the venerable Calais Campbell added a sack and a half.
“It’s not about the stats, man,” Ngakoue said. “At the end of the day, I’m just happy to see guys thrive on the D-Line and on the defense, too. We had a guy that nobody would touch and came in here and had two picks, Tre (Herndon) … man that’s special right there. I’m just thankful to see guys like that be able to make plays and progress and get more comfortable within the game.”
Herndon finished with two tackles and two interceptions of Darnold, two of the three the Jets’ signal caller threw.
“Brothers out there having fun,” Herndon said. “That’s how it is. It’s like having fun with your brothers.”
Minshew finished the day with a 119.6 quarterback rating, going 22-of-34 passing for 279 yards and three touchdowns, one to Keelan Cole of six yards, one of 70 yards to Chris Conley for which Minshew extended the play, then threw the deep ball as Conley got behind Jets defenders, and one to D.J. Chark Jr. with 4:13 left in the game as the Jets had closed in at 22-15 early in the fourth quarter.
“Yeah, it’s big (the last TD),” Minshew said. “I was definitely sick of hearing about the red zone stuff, so we’re trying to score touchdowns as best as we can. It was really good to do that and give us a little more cushion.”
And Minshew Mania will at least take the show to London to face off with the Houston Texans next Sunday. The first meeting against the Texans was the one Minshew made his starting debut after the injury to Foles. He had gotten a late touchdown pass to Chark with 30 seconds left at NRG Stadium on Sept. 15 and Marrone decided to go for two points and the win down 13-12, but running back Leonard Fournette, who finished with 76 yards rushing on 19 carries on Sunday, was stopped a foot short of the go-ahead score.
“(Minshew) does not play as he was brought into this league as a sixth-round draft pick,” Marrone said. “He doesn’t play like that.”
Marrone said he does not want to have to think about making that decision to bring Foles back when he’s healthy just yet.
“Why would I go through scenarios in my mind and waste my time when I have to get ready for another game,” Marrone said. “If we didn’t have a bye after the Texans game, I would start going through that in mind and have to make a decision. But since I have the bye, there’s so many things that can happen between now and then. That’s probably my strength and my weakness. My strength is I can focus in on something, but my weakness is, ‘Hey down the road, you don’t see this coming.’ I really haven’t thought about it and the reason why is I don’t have to and I don’t want to. I’ll deal with it when it happens. That’s the truth.”
For now, these 4-4 Jaguars are just one win behind the 5-3 team that came up short in the AFC Championship game against the New England Patriots two years ago. And for one afternoon, Sacksonville returned to the Bank, much to the delight of Minshew, watching its mastery on the sideline.
“It was awesome,” Minshew said. “That’s the thing — we knew if we can get a lead on people, that’s what they’re capable of. That’s what this defense is built for … when we can get a team and they’re one dimensional. I can’t say enough how much it does for us when they create turnovers and make negative plays to get the team off the field so we can go drive.”