JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Minshew Mania 2.0 might be better than the original.
Gardner Minshew threw three touchdown passes, including a 22-yarder to Keelan Cole in the fourth quarter, and Jacksonville opened the season by stunning Indianapolis 27-20 and spoiling Philip Rivers’ debut with the Colts.
Not bad for a team that was supposedly giving up on the season before it even played a down.
“We’re going to do our best to make sure we’re worth watching,” Minshew said.
The Jaguars entered Week 1 as the NFL’s biggest home underdogs, with talk of tanking being the most prevalent preseason topic surrounding the revamped team. It led to tempered expectations that may have contributed to a sparse crowd: only 14,100 of 16,800 tickets available were distributed for the league’s lone game played with fans in the stands Sunday.
Minshew gave the faithful plenty to celebrate. The second-year pro completed 19 of 20 passes for 173 yards and no turnovers. He connected with DJ Chark, rookie Laviska Shenault and Cole for scores — and looked sharp all day. Minshew’s only incompletion was a catchable ball early.
Jacksonville had plenty of other young guys step up, validating decisions to part ways with running back Leonard Fournette, defensive end Yannick Ngakoue and safety Ronnie Harrison about two weeks before the opener.
Undrafted rookie running back James Robinson accounted for 90 yards, including 62 on the ground. He also hurdled linebacker Anthony Walker after a reception.
“I didn’t think he had that in him,” coach Doug Marrone said.
First-round pick CJ Henderson had an interception. Fellow first-rounder K’Lavon Chaisson would have had one, too, but it was negated by a penalty away from the play. And Shenault, a second-round selection, proved to be a versatile threat capable of creating mismatches all over the field.
Henderson’s pick turned the momentum in the second quarter. He also sealed the victory by getting a hand on a fourth-down pass intended for T.Y. Hilton in the waning seconds.
“I lost the game,” Hilton said. “The drops, never should have had them.”
The Colts have themselves to blame other ways, too. Coach Frank Reich went for it on fourth down from the 3-yard line early and failed to get points.
“I felt like that play was going to work, but it didn’t,” Reich said. “So we got outcoached and outplayed on that play.”
Rookie kicker Rodrigo Blankenship hit the left upright from 30 yards out, another missed opportunity. And safety Kenny Moore aided Jacksonville’s go-ahead scoring drive in the fourth with a horse-collar tackle that drew a 15-yard penalty.
Rivers completed 36 of 46 passes for 363 yards, with a touchdown and two interceptions. He entered the game with 20 TD passes and just one interception against Jacksonville since 2010.
“The second one, yeah, I’d like to have it back,” Rivers said. “But I didn’t think I was being reckless. Those are decisions you have to make in the heat of it. Certainly those turnovers hurt.”
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