JACKSONVILLE – The quarterback is the story.
When that's true in the NFL, it's often the only story – and that's pretty much the feeling around the Jaguars this week.
Gardner Minshew II will start for the Jaguars against the Los Angeles Chargers at TIAA Bank Field Sunday, with Head Coach Doug Marrone announcing this past Monday that he was inserting the rookie quarterback into the lineup for veteran Nick Foles.
Sunday will therefore mark Minshew's first start as the Jaguars' "permanent starter." He went 4-4 as a starter when Foles was out with a broken clavicle early this season.
That means it's Minshew's team now. And while it's almost certainly too late for the 4-8 Jaguars to salvage what began as a season of excitement and hope, Minshew absolutely gives Sunday's game an intrigue it otherwise almost certainly would have lacked.
Can Minshew provide the offense the lift Foles couldn't in the last three games? Can he reduce his turnovers and increase his red-zone efficiency? Can he turn this four-game opportunity into a long-term position as the starter?
Those aren't the only questions that matter around the Jaguars this week, but it feels that way. Because that's how it feels when the quarterback is the story.
Here are 10 things the Jaguars must do to beat the Chargers Sunday:
1.Ride the magic. This is a weird way to start "10 things" because there's nothing specific here. But when "Minshew Mania" reached its maniacal heights earlier this season, it wasn't about specifics. It was about Minshew's ability to breath hope into situations and games. There absolutely was an excitement to and energy around the Jaguars in his eight starts; that feeling was there again when Minshew played in the second half of a loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Sunday. Specific or not, tangible or not, that energy is part of what makes Minshew the best option. The Jaguars must ride it.
2.Let Chark and Westbrook make plays. Wide receivers DJ Chark Jr. and Dede Westbrook are far and away the Jaguars' most reliable players in the passing game. Minshew must lean on them because there are really no other consistent options.
3.Protect the magic. One knock on Minshew is he tends to leave the pocket too soon. The other side of that is the Jaguars allowed five sacks to the Buccaneers last Sunday. Can you fault Minshew for looking to run quickly?
4.Get lead. The Jaguars' last lead this season? When they took a 7-0 first-quarter lead at Indianapolis on November 17. That's the only time they've led in a loss this season, which means there have been seven games in which they never led. There aren't many guaranteed formulas for victories for this team, but this is not a come-from-behind bunch right now. It must get a lead.
5.Convert opportunities. The Jaguars have struggled to score touchdowns inside the opponents' 20-yard line all season. That hurt again Sunday against the Buccaneers when Minshew's third-and-goal pass from the 2 was intercepted, costing the Jaguars a chance to cut what had been a 25-point lead to a touchdown. This team isn't going to be consistent on offense. That means it must take advantage of its chances.
6.Pressure Philip Rivers into mistakes. This has been key against the Chargers for a decade and half. The Jaguars for far too long couldn't do it. But Rivers has struggled with interceptions in recent weeks. Making him struggle again is the Jaguars' best chance Sunday. But in order to do this, the Jaguars must find a way to get into pass-rushing situations. That brings us to …
7.Stop. The. Run. Chargers running backs Melvin Gordon and Austin Ekeler form one of the NFL's best running back tandems. The Jaguars are one of the NFL's worst run defenses. Rivers long has been a Jaguars nemesis, but this could be the more dangerous matchup for the Jaguars Sunday
8.Stop. The. Penalties. The Jaguars committed a season-high 16 penalties against Tampa Bay Sunday. Seriously? Sixteen?
9.Run in the red zone and stop the run in the red zone. The Jaguars have allowed 17 rushing touchdowns and scored just three rushing touchdowns. That statistic perhaps does more to explain the 4-8 record than any other. When you can't stop teams from running into the end zone and you can't force your will to do it yourself it's very hard to win in the NFL.
10.Ride the magic. The 'Stache is back. Ride the magic.