JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser and senior correspondent Brian Sexton both offer three quick thoughts on the Jaguars' 29-15 victory over the New York Jets in Week 8 of the 2019 season at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville Sunday
1.The Stache came up big. Give Jaguars rookie quarterback Gardner Minshew II credit – not just for routinely turning disaster into big plays Sunday, but for his best overall performance in seven games as an NFL starter. Sunday's game came after consecutive shaky games after the initial wave of "Minshew Mania" subsided. It also came against Jets defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who likes to stuff the run and confuse young quarterbacks with blitz-heavy schemes. Minshew, now 4-3 as a starter, handled pressure Sunday with veteran poise and impressive accuracy, completing 22 of 34 passes for 279 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions – and his escapability and improvisation created a 70-yard first-quarter touchdown pass to wide receiver Chris Conley and an eight-yard, game-clinching touchdown pass to wide receiver DJ Chark Jr. Head Coach Doug Marrone said afterward he has yet to decide who will start at quarterback – Minshew or Week 1 starter Nick Foles – when Foles returns in mid-November. But Sunday's performance doesn't make that choice any easier.
2.Sacksonville needs a lead. It's striking what a having a lead does for the Jaguars' defense, and we saw evidence again Sunday. The Jaguars entered Sunday understandably concerned about linebacker, with Austin Colitro and Joe Giles-Harris starting outside despite having played one combine snap this season. The Jaguars negated that concern with a ferocious pass rush that accounted for eight sacks and pressured Jets quarterback Sam Darnold into three key interceptions – one in the first quarter and two in the fourth. Many wondered early this season about the Jaguars' pass rush but remember: this unit had nine sacks in a Thursday Night Football victory over Tennessee in Week 3, a game in which the Jaguars led from early in the first quarter. Aside from that game, the Jaguars rarely led through six games. When the Jaguars got the lead late last week against Cincinnati, they forced turnovers on three consecutive possessions. They took an early lead Sunday, and the result was an effective pass rush. Get this defense a lead and it can be as dominant as any in the NFL.
3.This was big – no matter how it happened. Sunday's victory wasn't the most picturesque in franchise history, and the Jaguars for a second consecutive week struggled enough in the red zone to make a potentially comfortable victory comparatively uncomfortable. But make no mistake: the Jaguars through the first half of the season have done what they needed to do to remain in contention despite difficult circumstances, and Sunday was a continuation of that. The Jaguars on Sunday turned in a dominant defensive performance despite significant injuries at linebacker and along the defensive front. Marrone talked afterward about liking this team's fight and ability to stick together. It's a unit that stuck together through the first half of the season despite a Week 1 injury to Foles, and despite the September-October drama around the now-departed Jalen Ramsey. The team easily could have lost focus and slipped from the playoff picture. Instead, it has fought its way back into the conversation at the season's midway point. Few would have guessed that was possible in Week 1.
1.Gardner Minshew got in a rhythm early and the Jets couldn't knock him off stride. His protection was for the most part very good and when it wasn't his footwork was outstanding as he escaped the pocket and made the Jets pay. His touchdown pass to Chris Conley was a thing of beauty as he was spun around trying to get away from the pressure and still managed to look down field. You wouldn't have blamed the kid for pulling the ball down and running for eight or nine yards on the play. That's what makes him special, he has such a strong grasp of the offense that he knew where his receivers would be and unlike many rookie quarterbacks, he's willing and obviously able to make a play when the world around him breaks down. On one of the Jaguars second quarter field goal drives he converted four consecutive third downs, once when everything went haywire, he calmly took it himself. Not situation was too big for the rookie on Sunday. I think his third touchdown to DJ Chark on third and goal from the eight-yard line was him at his best, patient, not willing to throw it away and not worried about getting hit and taking a sack. I still think the Jaguars are going back to Nick Foles in Indianapolis in three weeks because of what the Super Bowl MVP knows and what he has done but I understand those folks that don't want to see Minshew sitting.
2.The Jaguars pass rush was supposed to get home against a beleaguered group of back-up offensive linemen from New York. They did. Eight times they sacked the spooked signal caller and four times they did it on third down to force a Jets punt. Three times they forced an errant throw which became an interception and in two of those situations the Jaguars converted, scoring touchdowns to build their lead. Yannick Ngakoue, Calais Cambell and Josh Allen combined for five and a half of those sacks which is exactly what defensive coordinator needs without an elite, shutdown corner and missing Marcell Dareus. It is a very good sign for the coming three game stretch against the AFC South. It's worth mentioning that the two corners on the field on Sunday, Tre Herndon and AJ Bouye combined for all three of those picks. They're pretty good even if they're not named Jalen Ramsey.
3.Leonard Fournette was very good on Sunday, finishing with 136 total yards on 26 touches which is a solid day. But he's having trouble doing what he does best which is find the end zone. His second down toss right should have scored but he hesitated, and the Jaguars went backwards. Now, the Jets came in fourth in the NFL in rushing yards allowed, they're good and they knew what to expect. He went on a 66-yard run on the opening drive and it was outstanding but the rest of the way the Jets held him to only 10 yards on 18 carries. The Jaguars are going to need 27 running hard the rest of the way, finding a rhythm for Fournette has to be a priority if they're going to beat the Texans in London.