JACKSONVILLE – He's back, and the Jaguars still have a chance.
Nick Foles didn't know the second part would be the case two and a half months ago, but when the Jaguars play the Indianapolis Colts Sunday two important things will be true:
*Foles will start at quarterback for the first time since Week 1.
*The Jaguars will still have playoff hopes.
Their 4-5 record and last-place status in the AFC South isn't ideal, but Foles has enough experience in these situations to know that hope is a good thing. And it gives you a chance.
"The guys have done a great job," Foles said Wednesday afternoon as the Jaguars (4-5) prepared to play the Colts (5-4) at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis Sunday at 1 p.m.
"To be back in a situation where we have an opportunity to make a run, that's all we can ever ask. I'm grateful and happy and to be back with those guys."
Foles, who signed with the Jaguars as an unrestricted free agent from Philadelphia in March, has been out since sustaining a broken clavicle in a Week 1 loss to Kansas City. Rookie Gardner Minshew II quarterbacked the Jaguars to a 4-4 record in his place.
That kept the Jaguars in the playoff chase, and Foles during his first media availability since immediately following the Chiefs game praised Minshew throughout.
"I'm proud of Gardner for everything he's done," Foles said Wednesday of Minshew, who threw 13 touchdown passes with four interceptions in nine games. "He's a tremendous player. He has been amazing in the quarterback room. I've really enjoyed watching him play and develop as a young player."
Minshew, who developed a strong following among Jaguars fans and fans nationally because of his play and persona, spoke Wednesday for the first time since Head Coach Doug Marrone named Foles the starter last Tuesday during the team's bye week.
"I was disappointed a little bit, obviously, because everybody wants to be that guy in the huddle," Minshew said. "But if you had told me at the beginning of year that I'd get to play half a season and then be able to learn, I'd have said I would take that deal 100 percent. I got a lot of good experience and I'm also going to be able to learn from one of the best dudes in the business."
Foles' return comes with the Jaguars in last place in the AFC South. They can move into second place with a victory Sunday, and a victory would move them to .500 with six games remaining – and keep them very much alive in a tight AFC Wild Card chase.
Foles excelled in late-season situations the past two seasons for the Eagles while playing for injured starter Carson Wentz, being named Super Bowl Most Valuable Player following the 2017 season and leading the Eagles to a wild-card appearance with a late-season run last season.
Foles was asked Sunday about November and December football.
"It's harder; it's a lot harder," Foles said. "Guys have been playing for a long time. More is on the line. Offenses and teams and cultures have been developed. Each year a team develops a culture. It doesn't matter if you have 90 percent of the team returning; that [other] 10 percent will affect the culture. At this point, cultures have really been created.
"That's the biggest challenge of stepping back in there and just playing football. It has been a while, but I look forward to the challenge because of the guys I get to step in the huddle with and being on the sidelines."
Foles had a plate installed in his clavicle to repair the injury and joked Wednesday that "every time I go through the airport I get stopped and checked, so I get to meet more people. It's great." He returned to the Jaguars shortly after surgery and worked with Minshew and the team extensively before returning to practice three weeks ago as allowed by NFL injured-reserve rules.
"It was good to run some scout team and get back out there with the guys, and just get reacquainted with the offense and dropping and doing all of those things," Foles said. "I was doing everything I could to get back and I'm excited to get back be back with the guys on the field playing.
"It's a great group of guys. We want to continue to grow, but I'm proud of the guys for what they've done."
Foles said he considered that time around the team crucial.
"Once I was able to really be here and really be around them, it was great – just to everything, to watch Gardner grow and run the offense," Foles said. "My role changed but I wanted to do that role to the best of my ability. It was really important to be around and continue developing those relationships. It was really great being around them."