JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser and senior correspondent Brian Sexton both offer three quick thoughts on the Jaguars' 38-20 over the Indianapolis Colts at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville Sunday
1.Gardner Minshew II deserves credit. The rookie quarterback was the Jaguars' biggest on-field story in 2019; his performance in Sunday's regular-season finale ensures he will be a huge story of the 2020 offseason. Aside from a first-half interception and two point-blank incompletions that cost the Jaguars a first-quarter touchdown, Minshew played one of his better games of the season and finished 27-of-39 passing for 297 yards and three touchdowns with one interception. As was the case much of the season, there were inconsistencies and concerns from Minshew Sunday; there remain many unknowns about whether he can be a franchise quarterback. But it's also true he went 6-6 as a starter – and was a hair away from 7-5 – and he has a flair for being productive in adversity. With so many unknowns facing the organization, we're far from knowing Minshew's long-term or short-term future. But he must be given credit for being far better as a rookie than anyone imagined – and for keeping himself in the conversation for the Jaguars' quarterback position moving forward.
2.Yes, ya gotta Pay Yann, but this will be tricky. The chants could be heard in the 'Bank at game's end – "Pay Ngakoue, Pay Ngakoue …" – and this no doubt will remain a strong sentiment among Jaguars observers in the offseason. It also promises to be a major offseason storyline – no matter who is making decisions around the Jaguars moving forward. But the reality entering the offseason remains the same as it was last offseason: paying Jaguars defensive end Yannick Ngakoue will be tricky, and it's unlikely going to happen without quite a bit of angst. Ngakoue and the Jaguars were far apart enough on a number last offseason that a deal couldn't get done, which led to Ngakoue's training-camp holdout. While Ngakoue had a good season with eight sacks, he remains a very good pass rusher who isn't as consistent against the run as would be ideal. The question isn't whether the Jaguars should pay Ngakoue. Or whether they want to pay Ngakoue. It's whether they will pay Ngakoue what he demands, and whether what he demands makes sense. Those are different questions, and the guess here is the short-term answer involves the franchise tag rather than a long-term deal. No matter who's making the decisions for the Jaguars.
3.What will the future hold? Stay tuned. You can't offer quick thoughts about the Jaguars after the '19 finale and not discuss the future of the team's decision-makers. As good a feeling as Sunday's victory left for those involved, the No. 1 question remains what will happen with Head Coach Doug Marrone and General Manager David Caldwell. There were reports Saturday that Marrone would be fired following Sunday's game, reports that were immediately refuted by Jaguars' Owner Shad Khan's top spokesperson – and by Jaguars co-owner Tony Khan. While Marrone answered multiple questions after the game about his future, nothing happened Sunday afternoon or evening to provide any insight into what the Khans will do. Marrone talked extensively about the Khans wanting to win and made clear he believes he can coach this team to success moving forward. We know no more about whether he will get that chance than we did 24 hours ago.
1.Minshew is the man. He proved Sunday he should be the No. 1 quarterback when the offseason begins. He wasn't perfect, but he was accurate, poised and in control. The Colts threw a bunch of looks at him and he calmly looked them off and made adjustments. The deep ball to wide receiver Keelan Cole that set up the first Jaguars touchdown was on the money, but it was his rollout read of Cole in the end zone that impressed me. The kid had enough zip on the ball to get the job done. I can't say if he is absolutely the franchise quarterback that so many hope, but if you can give him a tight end, better protection and a defense that can stop the run there isn't any reason why he can't at least be the guy until the franchise quarterback arrives. Sunday was an audition and he nailed it, performing as well as he has at any point this season with three touchdowns, a 70 percent completion rate and a quarterback rating of over 100. Nice job, rookie.
2.Give Marrone some credit; this team was well prepared. The Jaguars didn't have as many of their front-line players on the field as the Colts did Sunday, and they were playing without several key players. It showed early when Indianapolis averaged 5.7 yards per rushing attempt and didn't even bother throwing on their second touchdown drive. Marrone was playing with a patchwork defense but in the second half the Colts couldn't find any room to run at all – and quarterback Jacoby Brissett was under duress every time he dropped back to throw. The last few days have been a whirlwind of speculation about the future for both coaches and players. Marrone did a fine job of keeping his team together and getting the most out of them on Sunday against the Colts. Look at some of the other games involving teams out of the playoffs and you won't find similar results. Stay or go, Marrone is a solid coach who worked every second he was in the building to make his team better. He deserves a tip of the cap for his approach and his effort – if not his results.
3. There are some really good defensive players in the 2020 NFL Draft, which is a very good thing because the Jaguars need a bunch of them. Let's count the guys the Jaguars can count on in 2020; defensive end Josh Allen, defensive end Yannick Ngakoue, linebacker Myles Jack … maybe safety Ronnie Harrison? I think in the right scheme Taven Bryan can play the big tackle; he played his best game on Sunday and Quincy Williams can absolutely run and hit if he can navigate the move from college safety to professional linebacker. Cornerback Tre Herndon got better as the season went along. Even if all those went the Jaguars way, they still need five players who can step into starting roles if we assume defensive end Calais Campbell, defensive tackle Marcell Dareus and cornerback AJ Bouye are released for salary-cap savings. I wouldn't pass on a quarterback in the first round if the next Deshaun Watson or Patrick Mahomes are sitting there, but if they went defense early and often in April, it would be widely applauded in Jacksonville. I don't think they can get back to what we've come to expect around here on defense for a while because the salary cap is too tight to go crazy in free agency as they did in 2017. But they showed in the second half Sunday they're capable of playing good defense. More players should mean a lot more good defense next fall.