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More than Mania: "The It Factor"

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Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Gardner Minshew runs with the ball away from Oakland Raiders inside linebacker Will Compton (51) and linebacker Nicholas Morrow (50) during the first half of an NFL football game in Oakland, Calif., Sunday, Dec. 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

JACKSONVILLE – He has crammed a lot of experience into a short time.

That has made Jaguars quarterback Gardner Minshew II's often-dramatic, always-memorable rookie NFL season really fun and really cool. Not that it hasn't had something of a marathon feel, too.

"It feels like it's been a long, long season," he said Wednesday.

While that's true in many ways about the Jaguars' 2019 season, Minshew was referring specifically to his development.

Minshew in four months has gone from struggling enough during the preseason that there was no guarantee he would enter the regular season as a backup to starting the final month of the season over a healthy Nick Foles – who signed as an unrestricted free agent this past offseason to be the Jaguars' starting quarterback.

"He's a very intelligent kid and he's very focused," Head Coach Doug Marrone said Wednesday as the Jaguars (5-9) prepared to play the Atlanta Falcons (5-9) at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Ga., Sunday at 1 p.m.

"I think that helps. He doesn't really hear all the stuff that's going on. He looks like a 'play-by-play' guy. He'll learn from the past, but it's behind him. He moves on.  He's young. He's learning and the one thing about it is, it looks like he's having fun when he's out there."

The latest chapter in Minshew's story:

A come-behind victory over the Oakland Raiders this past Sunday, a game in which the Jaguars trailed 16-3 in the second half before Minshew's two touchdown passes in the final 5:15 to wide receiver Chris Conley gave them a 20-16 victory.

The victory was no outlier. It was the third time in 10 starts that Minshew has brought the Jaguars from behind in the fourth quarter. He did the same in victories at Cincinnati and Denver early this season.

He also came within inches of a fourth comeback. The Jaguars rallied from a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit in Minshew's first start – Week 2 at Houston – before losing 13-12 when running back Leonard Fournette's two-point conversion fell an inch short of the goal line.

Minshew Magic? Mustache Mania?

Whatever you call it, Marrone said Wednesday there is something about the rookie sixth-round selection late in a game.

"I can't put it into words, but I always think about how many times you hear coaches say, 'He has The It Factor,''' Marrone said. "People use terms like that to describe players. It just seems like when it's on the line and you need him to do something and the momentum's going your way that he finds a way to do it."

Minshew on Sunday completed just three of his first 11 passes for 69 yards, leading the Jaguars to one field goal on their first five possessions. He passed for 132 yards on the final three possessions, all of which ended with Jaguars scores.

"It's always kind of been like that," Minshew said. "My fourth-quarter and second-half numbers have always been better. As you get into games, you get a feel for what they're trying to do to you and get a feel for what you can do. I think that helps. It's also a thing that we're going to address: 'Let's play good all the time … not just some of the time.'''

Conley in his fifth NFL season is the most-tenured active member of the Jaguars receiving corps. He talked Wednesday of Minshew's confidence – and his ability to stay consistent late in the fourth quarter in clutch situations.

"There's not really any big difference," Conley said. "He's just himself, really. That's a good thing: come in and project confidence in your teammates – and yourself – then go down there and make the routine plays that need to happen to win the game.

"I think I've seen that confidence grow. He's a very confident gentleman. As he's gone on and gotten more snaps, he's grown in that confidence. He's learned that not every game starts out on fire. Not every game starts out with success.

"There are some games that start out pretty ugly. But an ugly win is still a win."

Ugly or pretty, Minshew is 5-5 as an NFL starter. And while the season has been long and remarkable, two games remain – and Minshew knows that in terms of his development, he's still early in his NFL journey.

"Looking back to where I was, I know a lot more than I did," Minshew said. "But looking ahead, I know there's a lot more that I don't know. I still have a long, long ways to go as far as that goes."

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