JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Gardner Minshew II believes his eight-game run as the Jacksonville Jaguars’ starting quarterback shows he can one day handle the job full time.
His head coach agrees, but the rookie from Washington State is going to have to wait for a while because Nick Foles is healthy and back on the field for the Jaguars’ final seven games.
“I think I proved I can be a guy in this league for a long, long time,” Minshew said Wednesday. “I think they believe that. And there’s other things we’re going to get better at so the next time I do get this opportunity, I’ll be ready and I’ll be better and we’re all going to progress together.”
Minshew, the team’s sixth-round draft pick, stepped in for Foles when he went down with a broken collarbone 11 snaps into the season opener and completed 61.2 percent of his passes for 2,285 yards, 13 touchdown passes, four interceptions, and a 92.8 rating. Though he also leads the NFL in fumbles (11) and is second with seven lost fumbles, Minshew did lead the Jaguars to a 4-4 record as a starter and has them still in contention for a playoff spot as Foles takes over.
Though Minshew’s last game was by far his worst — four turnovers (two interceptions, two fumbles) in the Jaguars’ 26-3 loss to Houston at Wembley Stadium in London — coach Doug Marrone believes Minshew can be a quarterback around which you can build a team.
“He’s done a great job,” Marrone said. “I feel a whole lot different about him now than I did prior to him playing, in a very positive way. We took some things and had some discussions on things that we’re going to work on going forward which will give him the ability to be a player in this league for a long time.
“We really believe that.”
However, the Jaguars’ immediate future depends on Foles. At 4-5, the Jaguars have little margin for error if they’re going to remain in contention for a playoff spot. Fortunately, Foles has a pretty good record as a starting quarterback when the games count the most.
Per ESPN Stats & Information, Foles has the best winning percentage of any starting quarterback in November or later (including playoffs) starting in 2016. He’s 10-2 (.833), which is better than Tom Brady (27-7, .794) and Andrew Luck (13-4, .765). Granted, he has played in fewer games than Brady and Luck, but six of those games have come in the playoffs — including Super Bowl LII — and the four teams he’s beaten in the postseason have a combined record of 52-20.
The Jaguars kick off the second part of their season with back-to-back road games against division opponents: Sunday at Indianapolis and Nov. 24 at Tennessee. Sunday’s game will be the first time Foles has played since he broke his left collarbone when Kansas City defensive lineman Chris Jones landed on him in Week 1.
Unlike a previous right collarbone injury when he was with Philadelphia in 2017, this was a complete break and required surgery. That, Foles joked, was actually a good thing.
“What’s amazing with medicine, you get a hairline fracture where you don’t need surgery, it can take longer to [heal], where you snap it you need surgery and put a plate in there, it can actually heal quicker,” Foles said. “So snapping it actually helped it. Little more painful but I get to buzz every time I go through the airport now, I get to get stopped and checked. I get to meet more people. It’s great.”
Foles said he wasn’t frustrated that he got hurt in his first game with the Jaguars, who signed him to a four-year, $88 million contract with a franchise-record $50.125 million guaranteed. He’s dealt with injuries before and he said he leaned on what has gotten him through tough times before: his faith.
“Right when I felt this thing break and I was going into the locker room I just realized, ‘God, this wasn’t exactly what I was thinking when I came to Jacksonville,'” Foles said. “Obviously you come here and you want to create a culture and impact people, but at the end of the day I was like, ‘God, if this is the journey you want me to go on I’m going to glorify you in every action, good or bad.’ I still could have joy in an injury. People hear that and say that’s crazy, but when you believe in Jesus and you go out there and you play, that changes your heart, and you only understand it when that purpose in your life — just like when I hoisted the Lombardi Trophy, the reason I’m smiling is my faith was in Christ. I realized I didn’t need that trophy to define who I was because it was already in Christ.”
After his surgery, Foles still attended meetings and film study and was on the sideline on game days. He tried to mentor Minshew and tried to help slow the game down for him. While doing all that, Foles said he also learned a lot about what the Jaguars actually have on offense.
“I mean, obviously you want to be playing because that’s where you grow and that’s what you see from a playing perspective. It’s how you approach it,” Foles said. “If you want to sit there and wait and wait until you play you’re probably not going to learn anything, but the big thing was watching our offense, watching Gardner play, seeing the ins and outs and going through the game plans, studying the film, I was able to learn and see different things. More so from a personnel perspective from what we have, because I got to see during OTAs and training camp what we have but you never know once the lights are on what it’s going to be like.”
Now it’s Minshew in that role, which is where he began the season.
“I was disappointed [at going back to the bench] a little bit, obviously, because everybody wants to be that guy in the huddle,” he said. “But if you told me at the beginning of the year that I’d get to play half the season and learn I’d say I’d take that deal 100 percent. I got a lot of good experience and mostly get to learn from one of the best dudes in the business.”