The New Orleans Saints are continuing to thrive and win games in spite of not having Drew Brees in their starting line-up. and now the Black and Gold will be seeking their 4th straight win in a row without their future Hall of Fame QB when they travel to Florida this upcoming Sunday to face their next opponent the Jacksonville Jaguars.
But once they arrive there, the entire Saints organization undoubtedly will get their very first-ever experience with what is now being jokingly-referred to as “Minshew Mania”. That’s the popular term of the moment that’s being used to describe the sudden impact of Jaguars rookie sensation and starting quarterback Gardner Minshew.
Minshew took over as the Jaguars’ starting QB back in Week #1 and replaced veteran QB Nick Foles,after he broke his collarbone. Since that time, Minshew’s rise to NFL stardom has made him a “cult hero” in the North Florida regional area and among the Jaguars fan-base; and part of that new-found fame likely comes directly from some of the more colorful stories from his well-documented past in college.
To be more specific for those Saints fans that might not be “up to speed” with the Jaguars team or Minshew himself; the 23-year old Flowood, Mississippi native and Jacksonville’s 6th Round draft pick earlier this off-season from Washington State University, has made quite a name for himself in popular sports culture.
That’s due in part because of his rather unique physical appearance that includes a luscious handlebar mustache, a pair of ‘aviator’ sunglasses and a middle part in his hair that many compare to the famous movie character “Uncle Rico” from the film “Napoleon Dynamite”.
But lo and behold: there’s a lot more to this young man, that meets the eye.
In his now four and a half games at the helm for Jacksonville — who will be hosting the Saints inside the confines of an expected sell-out crowd at TIAA Bank Field Stadium — Minshew has rapidly and unexpectedly emerged as one of the league’s most efficient passers; and not just in the rookie category, but in the entire League, period,
Unbelievably, Minshew actually has a higher completion percentage than a handful of elite-caliber QB’s that include reigning NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes, Tom Brady, and Aaron Rodgers. He’s the only quarterback in the league with at least 200 passing yards and a passer rating of 95 in each of his five games this year, and he’s been even better inside the red zone, where he’s thrown a whopping 8 of his 9 total touchdown passes thus far on the season.
Minshew’s success running the Jaguars offense in the absence of Foles has been bolstered by a strong running game that features former LSU All-American and Jaguars #1 RB Leonard Fournette (who is 3rd in rushing yardage with 512) and a ferocious defense.
And even though Jacksonville head coach Doug Marrone learned the “ins and outs” of NFL head-coaching under Sean Payton while he served as a member of Payton’s staff with the Saints (from 2006 thru 2008) and is regarded one of the better and more creative play-callers League-wide in his own right; Marrone has Minshew playing but staying within the parameters of their offense — and the rookie signal-caller isn’t being asked to do too much or having to learn anything complicated scheme-wise.
But Minshew possesses that special something, that certain “it” quality which allows him the capability to make big plays when needed most, especially late in games.
“The way I look at it, it’s just really quite unbelievable. Remarkable is a word I’ve used before, when I take a step back and I look at it from a distance,” Marrone said in a recent interview about his rookie quarterback. “I think the 10,000-foot view is, ‘Holy cow, what an unbelievable job he’s doing.’
Minshew has risen to cult-like status for his outfits and outlandish history, including a brief stint at East Carolina University in 2016-17. But it was with the Cougars program at Washington State University in the Pac-12, where he transferred to prior to the start of the 2018 college football season; which is where the roots of “Minshew Mania” originally began.
Minshew helped lead Washington State to a school-record-breaking 11 wins in 2018, and was awarded the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award as the nation’s top senior quarterback. Additionally, he was also named Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year for 2018,
That led to his eventually being drafted by the Jaguars, who at first had only intended Minshew to compete for a roster spot as the team’s 3rd string QB. Now just six short months later, Minshew now finds himself as one of the League;s most unlikely of starting #1 QB’s.
That;s not to say that everything has “come up roses” so far, however.
Yesterday in Charlotte against the Panthers. Minshew shredded the Carolina secondary for a career-high 374 yards and two touchdown passes. but the Jaguars fell short on the scoreboard by a final margin of 34-27.
Minshew lost three fumbles, and his inability to protect the football led to one of three rushing touchdowns by Panthers RB Christian McCaffrey; while his 2nd fumble turned into a 56-yard fumble return for a touchdown by Carolina linebacker Brian Burns.
“Those are all on me; that can’t happen,” Minshew said.to reporrters yesterday after the game “When stuff like that happens, sometimes you don’t give yourself a chance to win. That’s what I feel like we did, what I did.”
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Minshew’s 3rd and final lost fumble ended a Jacksonville drive when he was sacked at the Panthers 47 by Burns. The Jaguars had reached the Panthers 39-yard line with only 2:37 remaining, but Minshew’s gaffe cost them a chance to either tie the game and send it in to overtime, or go for the 2-point conversion and the win outright.
Nevertheless. it was still a banner day for Minshew and the Jaguars passing game, and his favorite target yesterday was another former LSU star in 3rd year wide receiver DJ Chark Jr.; who hauled in eight catches for 164 yards and two touchdowns. The Panthers defense struggled with Chark’s big play ability, as the emerging young play-maker gashed the Carolina secondary with three catches that went for over 30 yards.
But one of the keys to Carolina’s win besides the turnovers by Minshew, was the Panthers’ ability to somewhat successfully “stuff” Fournette and the Jaguars running game.
Fournette finished the day with 108 yards rushing, but 48 of those yards actaully came came on one single “big play”. Take away that one individual carry away from Fournette;s total, and the Panthers Front 7 was able to limit Fournette to 60 yards on 22 carries. for a meager average of only 2.7 yards per carry.
That will certainly mean that the Saints will probably look to take a page out of the Panthers’ book, and gear up to stop Fournette and the Jacksonville running game in the hopes that it will force Minshew into a few more rookie mistakes, particularly with protecting possession of the football.
An even bigger part of the Saints’ overall game plan for this Sunday’s upcoming contest though might come on their own offensive side of the football; given that the always-stellar Jaguars defense yesterday got exposed heavily at defending McCaffrey, who entered the game leading the NFL in rushing and total yards.
McCaffrey absolutely GASHED the Jaguars run defense, as the Panthers superstar RB rushed for 176 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries. He had a career-long 84-yard touchdown run to start the 2nd half. He also caught six passes for 61 yards and a first-half touchdown reception.
“We came into the game thinking that we wanted to stop Christian McCaffrey and control him,” Marrone said. “Obviously, he had a really good day and that hurt us.”
While Saints starting #1 RB Alvin Kamara hasn;t put up the numbers at quite the level that McCaffrey has, they are two very similar players that are both well-known for their speed and “shiftiness”.
So it would be a surprise honestly if New Orleans and Payton don’t try to incorporate Kamara substantially into their plans for Sunday’s contest.
But until the game reaches that point (if it even does at all), the Saints in the meantime will undoubtedly soak up the experience that awaits them upon their arrival — when they face the Jaguars and the growing legend of “Minshew Mania”….