From the desk of Jon Ralph
October 10th, 2019

GARDNER Minshew sounds like something you cleaned off the bottom of your boot after a day weeding the yard. In the batshit crazy world of NFL football, the Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback is somehow the game’s hottest new talent.

Five weeks into the NFL season, the theme of those pre-season predictions is unwavering.

Bill Belichick’s New England Patriots are not only the team to beat – as always – they are finding new ways to humiliate the opposition.

More of that later.

But if any team (except those playing the Patriots) can win on Any Given Sunday, any player can suddenly become a star in America’s most popular sporting code. Minshew’s story is just spectacular.

Minshew entered the league with a whole heap of bizarre stories from his background that were scarcely believable, including attempting to break his hand with a hammer to get a medical exemption and another year of college football. He was an anonymous sixth round selection likely to slip into NFL oblivion after a career as a solid backup.

Nick Foles won an unlikely Super Bowl with Philadelphia as a back-up turned saviour, crossed to Jacksonville a season later and promptly got injured in week one. So in stepped Minshew, promptly compared to Napoleon Dynamite’s Uncle Rico, a cult figure with similarly atrocious facial hair and fabled high school career.

This is the NFL, so Minshew went lights out.

He barely missed a throw in an honourable 40-26 loss to Patrick Mahomes’ Kansas City then was respectable in a one-point Week Two loss to Houston. Then came the two-match winning streak where he put his full arsenal of throws on show. By last week he had as many touchdowns as Tom Brady and the second-best passer rating in the NFL. His Jacksonville Jaguars ran into the Carolina Panthers this week and while he kept his excellent season going, Christian McCaffrey was even better. Minshew lost three fumbles but with 374 passing yards and two TDs, the NFL can’t wait to see what Minshew does next.

So what are the other big storylines of the NFL after Week 5?

1) That running back who took down Minshew’s Jacksonville? He might be the league’s MVP so far.

McCaffrey came into the season as a top-three fantasy player after his breakout 2019 season. This season he just can’t stop racking up records. In the first four weeks he notched a total of 629 scrimmage yards and joined the legendary Jim Brown as the only players in NFL history with at least 175 scrimmage yards and a score in three of the first four games. Against Jacksonville, with star quarterback Cam Newton still sidelined, he went to a new level. He added 176 yards on the ground as well as five passed for 52 yards, adding a trio of touchdowns for good measure. His MVP challenger seemed to be Kansas City’s Mahomes, but he not only slumped to his first loss of the season in week five (19-13 to the Indianapolis Colts), he has started to look normal.

Against the Colts with a stuttering offence Kansas finished with their lowest points tally in his young career full of pyrotechnic moments. But he has plenty of time left this season to snatch back favouritism from McCaffrey.

2) The New England Patriots have taken the mickey out of the league for going on two decades now.

The good news is that if Tom Brady and co. win their seventh Super Bowl in 10 attempts early next year they will have at least earned it.

The collective NFL community shook its head when Pittsburgh’s resident troublemaker Antonio Brown orchestrated a move from Oakland to the Patriots in a blaze of social media rants and bizarre self-inflicted fines. The best wide receiver in football had landed with the NFL’s best team, and all for a late draft pick.

The NFL’s rich were getting richer….. and yet Brown’s time with New England lasted a matter of days. In a shock twist, a series of deep-dive journalistic investigations revealed a litany of sexual harassment and sexual assault claims, and Brown was on his way out of the league.

For now.

Yet five weeks into the season, New England is 5-0 and soaring. In its best start since 2015, a team supposed to struggle with Tom Brady a year older and without transcendent tight end Rob Gronkowski is setting new records.

This time is it its defence getting it done. Its latest demolition – six sacks against the winless Washington Redskins as it allowed just 220 yards in a performance that cost its coach Jay Gruden his job. For years Belichik’s defence was seen as break-but-don’t-bend, happy to concede yards but not touchdowns. Yet has taken up where it took off in three miserly NFL finals, racking up competition-highs in turnovers, interceptions, passes defended and sacks.

3) Washington’s Gruden won’t have to wait until Black Monday to get it in the neck.

On track for a third straight losing season, he was sacked this week after the Redskins’ first 0-5 start since 2001. He had joked after a 33-7 loss to the Patriots: “If the key works on Monday, I’ll keep working. Go attack the Miami Dolphins and plan on getting on first win next week.”

Washington just changed the locks.

4) AFL coaching legend Leigh Matthews used to famously state, “never complain, never explain” about what happened on an AFL football field.

The Minnesota Vikings wide receivers spent all week whingeing about lack of opportunities, then spent Sunday vindicating why they should keep getting fed. Vocal about the lack of balls thrown their way in the first four weeks, Adam Thielen caught seven balls for 130 yards and two touchdowns from quarterback Kirk Cousins.

Fellow wide receiver Stefon Diggs played down trade speculation after his own improved display, while running back Dalvin Cook found room for 218 years from scrimmage against the New York Giants in a 28-10 victory.

At 3-2 in a stacked NFC North, they have at least kept alive their season.

Footy Journalist Jon Ralph experiencing the Super Bowl in Minneapolis.