OAKLAND, Cal. – Senior writer John Oehser and senior correspondent Brian Sexton both offer three quick thoughts on the Jaguars' 20-16 victory over the Oakland Raiders at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum in Oakland, Calif., Sunday
1. So much for the idea that the Jaguars have quit. The Jaguars did something Sunday they haven't done enough in the second half of the season: they showed real scrappiness and fight, and the result was a victory that seemed somewhere between from improbable to impossible throughout much of the game. This was notable because the team had been dominated statistically in the first half, during which it felt as if the Raiders inevitably would pull away. That never happened, and two fourth-quarter passes from rookie quarterback Gardner Minshew II to wide receiver Chris Conley gave the Jaguars a victory after they had trailed by 13 points at halftime. Observers had spent the past several weeks questioning the Jaguars' desire, and wondering if they had quit. Players and coaches had insisted that wasn't the case, and they proved that in the second half Sunday. The victory over the Raiders doesn't remotely save the season, and it doesn't mean this team doesn't have major weaknesses that must get addressed. But it does show that this team hasn't quit.
2. The Jaguars can still rush the passer – like really well. One of the real shames of the Jaguars' 2019 season is that the run defense has been so bad it hasn't afforded the pass rush enough chances. And for all the Jaguars' weaknesses – and there are too many to count at this point – they remains a very good pass-rushing team. That strength showed itself again Sunday, with the Jaguars' pass rush keeping the team in the game through much of the first half with three sacks – one by linebacker Austin Calitro, one by defensive end Yannick Ngakoue and another shared by defensive ends Calais Campbell and Josh Allen. Ngakoue finished the game with two sacks and is the first player in franchise history with eight or more sacks in four consecutive seasons. Allen became the seventh player in franchise history with 10 or more sacks in a season. The Jaguars' defense unquestionably has been a disappointment this season, but the pass rush showed again Sunday that it can take over a game – and keep the Jaguars in a game – in the right circumstances.
3. Gardner Minshew has savvy, heart and just about every intangible imaginable. Wide receiver DJ Chark Jr.'s absence didn't bode well for the Jaguars. That pregame storyline couldn't have been more accurate early Sunday as the Jaguars' offense struggled for three quarters. What happened next? Well … Minshew Mania happened, and the rookie quarterback again showed all of the excitement and magic that excited the Jaguars' fan base – and much of the NFL world – earlier this season. Minshew, after struggling through a three-for-10, 69-yard first half, led the Jaguars to 17 points in the final 16 minutes and threw two touchdowns to Conley in the final 5:15. Does this mean Minshew is the franchise quarterback moving forward? No. We're not there yet. We're not even close to being there yet and that may never happen. But he has leadership and moxie that's hard to deny, and it's hard to imagine the Jaguars winning Sunday without it.
1. It takes a mile to turn a cruise ship around. I thought it might take much longer to turn this ship around. Five consecutive double-digit losses, negative stories about the direction of the franchise and where it might turn after the season and players so new to Jacksonville, I couldn't recognize them by face or name. Down 13 points after an underwhelming first half with only two first downs, 75 yards and a field goal who could have expected this team to rally against a Raiders team with faint playoff hopes and a crowd that was waiting to go off in the final NFL game to be played in Oakland? It was an epic come from behind effort and credit should go to a lot of veteran players who kept their younger, newer teammates focused on what was possible. Calais Campbell, Brandon Linder, AJ Bouye and Leonard Fournette worked the sidelines relentlessly in the third quarter and in the fourth there was a strong sense of 'yes, we can.' The hostile crowd was an unexpected source of fuel for the Jaguars and guys like Yannick Ngakoue, Fournette, DJ Hayden and Cam Robinson made sure everyone felt as if the world was against them. It was especially poignant as the California State Highway Patrol and Oakland Police ringed the field in the final minutes with the crowd in a near frenzy. It was an amazing scene and one I won't soon forget.
2. Minshew was sensational in the second half, but the game ball belongs to the defense.I get it, the rookie was abysmal in the first half and awesome in the second. Every time I want to count the kid out, he seems to wriggle off the hook and find a way to do something that makes me shake my head. However, the defense deserves my game ball for keeping the game close. I kept waiting for the implosion through the first three quarters as the offense sputtered along but it never came. The defense just wouldn't go away. The early touchdown didn't get them down and they held the Raiders to just three field goals the rest of the way despite the fact that Josh Jacobs seemed to be able to find 9 yards anytime they really needed it and the Jags had no option for tight end Darren Waller who finished with eight catches and 122 yards. The pass rush was relentless and made their four sacks at the most opportune times and Leon Jacobs ran from sideline to sideline and will undoubtedly earn credit for 12 to 15 tackles. The defense kept it close, they bent but didn't break and gave the rookie quarterback a chance and that's all he seems to need.
3. Pay Yannick Ngakoue.I didn't think it was a wise move to make early in the season, not with the looming specter of a mega contract for Jalen Ramsey. Now that shadow is in Los Angeles and the light that Ngakoue keeps bringing to his play proves he deserves the big contract he seeks. I asked him after his five tackle, two sack, four tackles for a loss game how much he wanted, and he just smiled. He's been the consummate professional through this season, betting on himself and with two games to play he's a good bet to get to 10 sacks and the big plays he's made in a losing season shouldn't be forgotten. The Jaguars are going to have to take a good, hard look at their salary cap and start planning for the long term but it seems like a foregone conclusion that a guy who plays as hard as Ngakoue, especially late in a lost season when a lot of other guys would be playing it safe to stay healthy and not cost themselves, deserves his money. I like it when they know they have to prove themselves and they do. If I was writing the checks I would smile as I wrote out his.