JACKSONVILLE – Mania '19 ended on a positive note. Very, very positive.
Gardner Minshew II, the Jaguars' quarterback who was equal parts excitement and inconsistency throughput a memorable rookie season, capped that season with perhaps the best performance of his young career in a 38-20 victory over the Indianapolis Colts at TIAA Bank Field Sunday.
"It's huge," Minshew said of the victory.
Minshew, a sixth-round selection in the 2019 NFL Draft, completed 27 of 39 passes for 295 yards and three touchdowns with one interception Sunday. A Jaguars offense that had struggled throughout the second half of the season produced more than 30 points for the first time this season.
"It gives you a glimpse of what we can be and what we should be," said Minshew, whose energy and excitement was dubbed "Minshew Mania" early this season. "It should give us a lot of excitement, optimism, and hope going forward as we bust our tails this spring."
Minshew, after struggling at times in the preseason, started Weeks 2-9 when Week 1 starter Nick Foles was out with a broken clavicle. Minshew then replaced a healthy Foles and started the final four games of the season, finishing 6-6 as a starter.
"It was awesome; it really was a dream come true," he said of his rookie season. "I'm so blessed that God has had his hand over me through a lot of trials and tribulations. Had to take a long way to get here but I'm so fortunate for that as it really prepared me for it. There's a lot to be proud of, a lot we can work on, and a lot we can look forward to."
Minshew on Sunday struggled at times early, overthrowing wide receiver Dede Westbrook on a potential first-quarter touchdown and following that with a second-quarter interception that led to a Colts field goal.
But he played better as the game continued, giving the Jaguars the lead with a three-yard touchdown pass to running back Ryquell Armstead and securing the victory with an 18-yard fourth-quarter touchdown pass to Westbrook.
"I think he's going to be someone that gets better and better," Head Coach Doug Marrone said. "There are still a couple of things that go on out on that field that I'm sure Gardner wishes he had back … but those things are natural. Those things are going to have to, you know, those things take a little bit of time.
"I've always said one thing about Gardner is he's a guy that keeps on learning as he goes and gets better and doesn't make a mistake twice, at least consciously."
Count defensive end Calais Campbell among those who believe the Jaguars must figure a way to keep defensive end Yannick Ngakoue. The contract status of Ngakoue, who is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent in March at the start of the 2020 NFL League Year, is expected to be a major topic for the franchise this offseason. Ngakoue and the Jaguars failed to reach a contract extension last offseason, with Ngakoue holding out early in training camp before registering eight sacks in 14 games played this season. "You can't let that guy leave," Campbell said. "Guys like that don't grow on trees. He plays with so much passion and he's just scratching the surface. He plays with so much tenacity and he can change the game. … I know it's going to cost a lot to keep him, but I would not let him go." Marrone on Sunday reiterated what he has said throughout the season – that Ngakoue played this season with professionalism and passion despite the contract issue. "I have been here for four years and I've learned a lot," Ngakoue said. "Business is business and I'm not sure what the future holds."
Campbell also addressed his future with the team, saying he expected to return. "Of course, I'm on the contract still," he said. "I know in the past I said that I didn't know because this business is tough, but I'm on the contract still so I expect to be here with this team." Campbell, a Pro Bowl selection in each of his three seasons with the Jaguars, has a high salary cap figure that has led to speculation he could be released in the offseason.
Jaguars rookie defensive end Josh Allen, the No. 7 overall selection in the 2019 NFL Draft, registered a a half sack Sunday to extend his franchise single-season rookie record to 10.5. He was asked after the game his case for Defensive Rookie of the Year. "I mean, I'm really not the guy who brags about himself, but if you sit back and look at the reps played, that speaks for itself," Allen said. "And that's all I can say."
Center Brandon Linder on Sunday's victory: "It means a lot because this was a great way to end off our season. It definitely could've been us all year and we see that now. We were exceptionally communicating with each other and stayed on the same page. It was special to put up 38 points and that's who we should be, a great way to end it and coming into the new season next year."