The New Orleans Saints will be seeking their 4th consecutive victory Sunday afternoon, when they travel to the North Coast of Florida to face the Jacksonville Jaguars at TIAA Bank Field. Kickoff is slated for 12:00 p.m. Central and the game will be televised regionally on CBS. Locally, you can watch on WWL-TV New Orleans Channel 4.
Coming into this game, the Saints have a 4-1 win-loss record and have won their past three games without starting QB Drew Brees, who is still recovering from surgery for a torn thumb ligament on his throwing hand.
Meanwhile, the Jaguars have a 2-3 win-loss record. Yet, they are one of the more intriguing teams in the NFL this season, thanks in part to “Minshew Mania”. That’s the popular phrase that’s being used to describe the impact of Jacksonville rookie and starting quarterback Gardner Minshew.
Minshew Mania has swept the nation.
— NFLonCBS (@NFLonCBS) October 6, 2019
Minshew — who was drafted in the 6th Round of the 2019 NFL Draft out of Washington State University — took over as the Jaguars’ starting QB in Week #1, replacing veteran QB Nick Foles after he broke his collarbone.
Since then, Minshew’s rise to NFL stardom has made him a “cult hero” among the Jaguars fan-base. Part of that new-found fame likely comes directly from some of the more colorful stories from his well-documented college days, which has now made him a well-known figure in popular sports culture.
With all of that in mind, here are Big Easy Magazine’s five bold predictions for this Sunday’s contest.
#5. Louisiana Native and Former LSU Star DJ Chark Torches the Saints Secondary for 2 Long Touchdowns
Jags got one in second-year receiver DJ Chark.
➖ Five TDs in five games
➖ No. 2 in receiving TDs
➖ No. 5 in receiving yards
➖ No. 5 fantasy receiver (PPR) pic.twitter.com/SlFX5AHxrd
— B/R Gridiron (@brgridiron) October 7, 2019
Alexandria, Louisiana native and former LSU star wide receiver DJ Chark has emerged as one of the NFL’s young breakout stars for the Jaguars in his 2nd NFL season after he had a disappointing year for them as a rookie last year. But he’s adapted quickly to life in the NFL, and coming into this Sunday’s game against the Saints, Chark has 27 catches for 485 yards – an 18.0 yards-per-reception average, the best in the NFL for receivers with 20 catches or more.
But what’s more impressive is that Chark has quickly earned a reputation as a “deep ball” receiver, which is confirmed by the fact that the 23-year-old former Alexandria High School Trojans star has caught a whopping seven receptions for at least 30 yards, which leads the entire NFL.
The impetus will be on the Saints defensive backs — most likely Saints #1 outside boundary cornerback Marshon Lattimore in particular — to slow down the deceptively-fast Chark. But as he has with almost every team that he’s faced, he will “torch” the Black and Gold secondary as well, scoring twice on two long TD receptions of 65-yards and then an 83-yarder that puts the Saints in jeopardy late in the game.
#4. In the Performance of a Lifetime, Saints Defensive End/Edge Rusher Marcus Davenport Explodes For Three Sacks Along With a Defensive Touchdown
— Saints News Network™ (@SaintsNews) October 7, 2019
After enduring some rather vocal criticism during the preseason from both analysts and fans alike, the 22-year old Davenport has finally begun to show the potential that the Saints organization thought they were getting when they traded up with the Green Bay Packers in the 2018 NFL Draft to acquire the pass rushing-phenom and small school defensive superstar from the University of Texas-El Paso.
Davenport has “flipped the switch” in his 2nd NFL season, and has gotten off to a great startm. Last week he turned in what may have been the finest performance of his young professional career when the San Antonio, Texas native was responsible for five of the Saints’ six sacks against Buccaneers’ starting QB Jameis Winston. As a result, Davenport finds himself now tied for the team lead (along with Cam Jordan and Trey Hendrickson) in sacks (3) on the season.
But in the game at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville, Davenport will have the performance of his young lifetime — as he explodes for three sacks and hits Jaguars QB Gardner Minshew from behind for a “strip-sack” on one play, scooping up the fumble and returning it for 32 yards for a defensive touchdown that gives the Saints an early 3rd Quarter lead.
#3. Saints QB Teddy Bridgewater Has Another Steady But Solid Day
It's time for the feel-good tweet of the week.
Teddy Bridgewater earned Week 5's second-highest passing grade – 86.6. It's the 4th highest single-game passing grade of his career and his highest since Week 2, 2015.
— PFF NO Saints (@PFF_Saints) October 8, 2019
Davenport isn’t the only Saints player that’s been scrutinized recently, as Saints #2 QB Teddy Bridgewater has had his share of detractors doubting his ability to fill in as the team’s starting QB while Drew Brees remains sidelined.
But Bridgwater has led the team to three consecutive wins and a 4-1 win-loss record with Brees out, and while he hasn’t exactly been “elite,” he’s proven himself more than qualified to be a starting QB in the NFL. He was razor-sharp last week in the win over Tampa Bay, and likely silenced many of his biggest critics while clearly demonstrating his ability to throw deep down the field, completing 25-out-of 33-passes for 314 yards along with 4 touchdowns.
I think Teddy Bridgewater had his best game as a pro last week against Tampa Bay. pic.twitter.com/UyvnvRBbvs
— Jordan Reid (@JReidNFL) October 8, 2019
This Sunday gainst the Jaguars, Bridgewater will have another steady but solid day. He completes nearly 65 percent of his pass attempts along with two touchdowns. Once again, along with quality play and contributions from both the defense and the special teams unit, Bridgewater has the Saints in position to win another game with Brees still out of the line-up.
#2. “Minshew Mania” Has Mixed Results Against the Saints Defense, Whose Front 7 ‘Stuffs’ Former LSU All-American and Jaguars RB Leonard Fournette
Leonard Fournette sees the Minshew Magic ✨ pic.twitter.com/nLPjSgcijP
— ESPN (@espn) September 30, 2019
As noted above, Minshew was already a “cult hero” last year at Washington State, not only because he led the team to a school record 11-win season and a win at the Alamo Bowl, but more because of his rather unique appearance. Minshew sports a neatly-trimmed mustache, aviator sunglasses, and a middle part in his hair that is reminiscent of the famous movie character “Uncle Rico” from the popular cult film Napoleon Dynamite.
But Minshew is famous with the Jaguars fan-base for his phenomenal performance as an NFL rookie after he took over for the injured Foles in the 1st Quarter of Week #1. Since that time, Minshew has a higher completion percentage than a handful of elite-caliber QBs, incliding Patrick Mahomes, Tom Brady, and Aaron Rodgers. His most impressive accomplishment is having thrown a whopping eight of his nine total touchdown passes this season while operating the Jaguars offense from within the red zone. He’s also the first rookie QB in NFL history to record a passer rating over 100.0 or better in his first four professional starts.
But Minshew hasn’t done it by himself; the contributions of DJ Chark (as mentioned above) along with starting #1 RB and former LSU All-American Leonard Fournette have made the rookie QB’s quick assimilation to the NFL a whole lot easier. Fournette’s power running style has been the perfect complement to Minshew’s passing ability, and to that point the New Orleans native and former St. Augustine High School star is currently 3rd overall in the NFL in rushing yardage with 512 yards and averages a league-leading 5.4 yards per carry.
But “Minshew Mania” will finish the contest with mixed results. The rookie QB definitely isn’t shy about throwing the football, and he will end up throwing for over 300 yards-plus passing yardage in this Sunday’s game. But the Saints defensive Front 7 still manages to “stuff” Fournette and the Jaguars running game, limiting him to 79 yards on 22 per carries. And that — along with a few key turnovers — ultimately determines the game’s final outcome.
#1. The Saints Hold On to a Slim 3-Point Lead in the 4th Quarter When…
— ⚜️Jeremy🤘🏽 (@JKMJX3) September 23, 2019
As mentioned above, Minshew hits Chark for their 2nd hook-up of the day on a long 83-yard yard TD pass which Chark catches in stride down the right sidelines, after Lattimore momentarily slips and allows him just enough of a cushion to make the grab. It gives Jacksonville a 23-22 lead after the Saints dominated the majority of the contest defensively.
But on this day, the Saints won’t be denied; after the Jaguars kick off the ball back to the Saints, Bridgwater hits a WIDE OPEN Jared Cook on the very first play from scrimmage. Cook streaks down the middle part of the field for a 68-yard TD catch-and-run, putting New Orleans back in front by a score of 29-23 with less than four minutes remaining to play.
Jacksonville gets the ball back with a chance to go back down the field and possibly take the lead with another touchdown drive, but on a critical 3rd-down-and 7 at their own 48, Minshew tries to hit slot receiver DeDe Westbrook around the Saints 35-yard line but is intercepted by Saints slot CB PJ Williams, giving the Saints the ball back with a chance to run out the clock by converting at least one first down.
But on the 2nd play of the subsequent drive, Saints RB Alvin Kamara breaks a tackle at the line of scrimmage and bursts into the Jaguars secondary, sprinting untouched from that point and taking it all the way for a 58 yard TD run that gives the Saints their eventual final margin — and the Black and Gold their 4th straight win without Drew Brees.
FINAL SCORE: SAINTS 36, JAGUARS 23
Barry Hirstius is a semi-retired journalist, who has worked as a sports editor and columnist. Barry is a New Orleans native who grew up as a fan of the Saints while attending games as a young boy at the old Tulane Stadium. He is the proud Grandfather of two beautiful young girls, Jasmine and Serenity. Follow him on Twitter: @BarryHirstius