JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Defensive end Yannick Ngakoue is essentially guaranteeing himself another year with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Ngakoue has six sacks in the past seven games, showing he’s fully recovered from a hamstring injury that slowed him early in the season and looking more and more like a defensive cornerstone.
The 24-year-old pass rusher now has 37 1/2 sacks in four seasons, including at least eight every year.
He was at his best in Jacksonville’s 20-16 victory at Oakland on Sunday, finishing with five tackles, two sacks and a pass breakup. Four of his five tackles came behind the line of scrimmage as the Jaguars (5-9) ended a five-game losing streak and won on the West Coast for the first time since 2005.
Ngakoue is close to completing the final year of a $3.84 million rookie contract. He is making $2.025 million this season — far less than other top playmakers at his position.
He had been seeking more than $20 million a year, but the Jaguars don’t seem to consider the 2016 third-round draft pick from Maryland a complete or elite defensive end. Jacksonville also selected Ngakoue’s potential replacement, Josh Allen from Kentucky, with the seventh overall pick in the NFL draft.
Still, it would be hard for the Jaguars, no matter who’s making key decisions, to let Ngakoue walk after four solid seasons. They likely will place the franchise tag on him, which would be a one-year deal worth more than $19 million, but also need to try to get him locked up long term.
Jacksonville has few pieces to build around moving forward, but Ngakoue and Allen are the main ones on defense.
“Those guys take a lot of pride in their work ethic and wanted to be better,” coach Doug Marrone said. “They both want to be special players in this league. … We’re real fortunate to have those guys playing at the level they’re playing at.”
Rookie Gardner Minshew rallied the Jaguars for two touchdowns in the final 5:19 against Oakland. He completed 17 of 29 passes for 201 yards and two scores, both to Chris Conley. Minshew also ran for 27 more.
Minshew improved to 5-6 as the starter.
“He’s still a young player,” Marrone said. “He’s still learning, going through the progressions. But the one thing that you see with the kid is this love and intensity to go out there and play.”
WHAT NEEDS HELP
Penalties have been and remain an issue. Jacksonville leads the NFL with 123 penalties, including eight for 87 yards against the Raiders.
Parry Nickerson’s nearly proved costly. He was flagged for running into the kicker as Daniel Carlson missed a 50-yard field goal in the final minutes. Carlson got another chance from 5 yards closer, but missed again.
Rookie right tackle Jawaan Taylor had his best game. He didn’t have a penalty and didn’t allow a sack.
“Now it’s important to be able to build on that,” Marrone said. “Build on that type of confidence and really end this thing well.”
Dede Westbrook did little to fill in for leading receiver DJ Chark. Westbrook had two receptions for 14 yards, giving him eight catches for 39 yards in two weeks.
Chark missed the game because of a sprained left ankle, but Marrone said he was able to run and cut Monday.
“I think there’s a good chance he’ll be able to come back and play,” Marrone said. “I know that’s what his mindset is, so that’s good. He’s on the field running and cutting. I haven’t gotten the report from that yet, but that’s a great sign.”
16 — the number of years it’s been since Jacksonville won in Atlanta.
Winning consecutive games in December surely would be good for something, right?
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