JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Not bad for the worst team in the NFL.
Panned, picked apart, ridiculed and accused of tanking for the top pick in next year’s NFL draft, the Jaguars made the only statement that mattered Sunday.
Eight-point underdogs against Indianapolis and projected as a team that was purposely tanking after siphoning off starter after starter, Jacksonville went out and shocked the Colts 27-20 in the opener at TIAA Bank Field.
Those #TankForTrevor hashtags, a moniker for the Jaguars to draft Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence No. 1 overall next year may be a bit premature after all.
“I really believe that this team will get better as we get going,” said coach Doug Marrone.
Gardner Minshew II outplayed Philip Rivers, playing turnover-free ball and throwing three touchdowns. Minshew had just one incompletion.
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The defense came up big (two interceptions and an early goal-line stand to stop the Colts at the 3) and held Indianapolis to just a field goal in the second half.
And those rookies — there are 16, yes 16! on the roster — boy did they look good. First-round pick CJ Henderson broke up Rivers' fourth-down pass with 48 seconds left at the Jaguars' 26 to seal the win.
“I think one of the things that served us well today was that we all have so much belief in each other. Whether it is me in them or them in me, when you have that, you can trust people to do their jobs," Minshew said. "Everybody can focus on their own and I’m really proud of how we played, and I think we are just scratching the surface.”
What a start for a team that no one expected much of anything from after it traded or released players like AJ Bouye, Calais Campbell, Marcel Dareus and Leonard Fournette.
They’re 1-0 and head to Tennessee next week with a full head of steam.
Minshew threw his third touchdown pass of the game, a 22-yard strike to a wide-open Keelan Cole, with 5 minutes, 56 seconds to go to give the Jaguars their first lead of the game.
Jacksonville came up big on defense on the following drive when safety Andrew Wingard picked off Rivers and the Jaguars parlayed that into a 46-yard field goal from Josh Lambo.
Lambo has never missed a field goal at TIAA Bank Field (45 for 45).
Defensively, Jacksonville had its issues against Rivers (36 of 46, 363 yards, TD) early but did well after some first-half lapses. It held the Colts to just one score after halftime, a 25-yard field goal by Rodrigo Blankenship that gave Indianapolis a 20-17 lead.
The rookies played very well and second-year quarterback Minshew was as steady as he’s been. He finished 19 of 20 for 173 yards and three touchdowns.
He hit DJ Chark on 6-yard touchdown to tie things at 7-all in the second quarter, a scoring drive set up by Henderson’s first career interception.
Rookie Laviska Shenault grabbed Minshew’s second scoring pass on a 15-yard slant route with just over a minute left in the opening half.
Undrafted rookie running back James Robinson had 62 rushing yards and caught the lone pass thrown his way, hurdling a batch of defenders and turning it into a 28-yard gain. That play proved huge.
Four plays later, Minshew hit Cole for the go-ahead touchdown.
“Honestly, just being out there, first NFL game as a rookie undrafted, it felt amazing,” Robinson said. “But I also just wanted to help my team win any way I could.”
Henderson, who the Jaguars drafted ninth overall, was exceptional in his debut. He had five tackles, three passes defensed and the pick.
It puts an end for now the talk that the Jaguars aren’t going to be competitive this year.
“I don’t care what you all talk about," Minshew said of the tanking talk. "We’re going to do what we do. Try to win one game a week. That’s all we can do. We’re very excited about this start.”