JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser and senior correspondent Brian Sexton both offer three quick thoughts on the Jaguars as they prepare to play the Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina, in Week 5 of the 2019 regular season.
1.The player is cooler than the mania. This is about Jaguars rookie quarterback Gardner Minshew II, and this first pre-Panthers quick thought focuses on the difficult task of separating player from phenomenon. While the phenomenon is about Minshew's undeniable likeability, what's more important to the Jaguars is he's very good on the field in critical – and possibly lasting – ways. Forget Minshew's numbers for a minute, though they're impressive and can be found in every corner of the football internet. What's perhaps most impressive about Minshew is his coolness under pressure, and he continually clears obstacles that often derail more prototypical, earlier-drafted quarterbacks. He was equally cool and productive against Kansas City in Week 1 with no practice repetitions in relief of injured Nick Foles as he was during a fourth-quarter rally in Houston in Week 2 as he was on prime-time against the Tennessee Titans in Week 3 as he was in a fourth-quarter rally in Denver in Week 4. Consider: This kid has been at his best when trailing. On the road. Late in games. This is just a sliver of his story, and it's only part of why you must feel optimistic about his future. But that coolness is yet another indication that Minshew is so much more than the mustache.
2.This opportunity is real. What a difference 10 days made, huh? Remember? Two weeks ago? The Jaguars were 0-2 entering a prime-time game against the Titans, and all anyone talked about when discussing the Jaguars was cornerback Jalen Ramsey's trade request. While the national pundits are still grinding the Ramsey story to the nub, what the grinders are missing is that after victories over the Titans and Denver Broncos, the Jaguars are tied for first place in the AFC South. To have turned potential disaster into even footing entering October was a major accomplishment – and showed that the true theme of this season thus far isn't Ramsey's sideshow; rather, it's that this is a team that believes itself capable of a successful season. And that's the biggest reason there is an opportunity at hand now. Yes, October features some apparently winnable games on paper – two teams with backup quarterbacks (Carolina, New Orleans) and two teams without a victory (Cincinnati, the New York Jets) – but this team's opportunity stems from the fact that it's playing well no matter what's going on with its opponents.
3.Here's guessing Ramsey plays soon. This likely will draw an eye roll in some circles, because there are circles who believe Ramsey missed last Sunday's game because of unhappiness or trade request or some combination thereof. But make no mistake: While Ramsey becoming ill, becoming injured and becoming a father for the second time as he did last week – a week after requesting a trade – was incredibly coincidental, he missed Sunday's game against the Broncos because he was too injured to play. The belief here remains that the Jaguars will not trade Ramsey during the regular season and the belief here is that Ramsey will play when healthy. Though he may not do so happily, he likely will do so because he is under contract and because he loves football; he won't want to miss games intentionally. What that will mean for Ramsey's future in Jacksonville is anyone's guess, and Ramsey's history suggests there will be more plot twists; his flair for drama isn't likely to fade anytime soon. But he has had that same flare for the dramatic throughout his career, and he has proven he can be an asset on the field even while providing the oddest of storylines off it.
1.Ramsey is no longer THE story in Jacksonville. The emergence of Minshew and his marvelous mustache has the city focused entirely on the other side of the ball. The day Nick Foles went down against Kansas City it was unthinkable that Minshew would become the story – or that Ramsey and his defensive teammates would cease to be – but that's exactly what has happened. Minshew's sensational second half in Houston and his dramatic come-from-behind victory in Denver has built the legend in just under a month. Jaguars Head Coach Doug Marrone told me in our final preseason television production meeting before the Falcons game in August that he wasn't sure Minshew would win the backup job. Now he's one of the top performing rookies in the NFL. What a story we're covering in Jacksonville in early October. Ramsey is the Jaguars' best player and his high-profile antics had the sports media buzzing two weeks ago. Today? Not so much, and that's much to the chagrin of the Twitter guys.
2.The Jaguars' defense is so much better when Ramsey is on the field. I watched the game in Denver Sunday and couldn't help but think the Jaguars wouldn't have had to rely on late-game heroics if Ramsey was in uniform. Two point oh would have taken either Courtland Sutton or Emmanuel Sanders out of the game entirely, leaving cornerback AJ Bouye to take the other and minimize his impact. Reserve corner Tre Herndon isn't ready to take on that role just yet and it was painfully obvious –especially to Broncos quarterback Joe Flacco. Had Ramsey been on the field, Flacco would have been sacked a half a dozen times and Minshew might have been handing the ball to running back Leonard Fournette instead of dropping back to pass – and might not have had to take that shot to the knee on the final drive. Ramsey is THAT good. The Jaguars' brass knows this, of course, which is why he's still in Jacksonville.
3.The offensive line better be better this week. The Broncos' defense is very good with two excellent edge rushers. The Panthers are playing at a much higher level, though, with 14 sacks against Arizona and Houston in the past two weeks. They run a version of a three-man front with former Tampa All-Pro Gerald McCoy, Dontari Poe and former first-round pick Vernon Butler taking the place of All Pro Kawaan Short, who is done for the year with a shoulder injury. The edge rushers are dangerous, led by Mario Addison, rookie Brian Burns and former Seahawks star Bruce Irvin creating havoc in the backfield. Last Sunday the Jaguars' offensive line was called for seven of the team's 12 penalties; they must clean things up and they have to do it in a hurry. If they can run the ball like they did last week, their job would be much easier.