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With Jaguars’ Gardner Minshew rising, could Nick Foles be a Buc?

The 49ers, Patriots and Drew Brees also draw attention -- on the Road To Miami Gardens.

ST. PETERSBURG — So, this may not be the right time to start talking about the Bucs’ future quarterback situation, but come on.

It’s what we do.

Jacksonville (4-4) downed the Jets behind another dazzling performance from Gardner Minshew, whose mustache always will earn a place on this page. Minshew went 22-of-34 for 279 yards and three touchdowns. Granted, he did that against the Jets, who have to be rattled after the Monday night beat down it got from the Patriots on Oct. 21.

Still, Minshew may have shown enough promise to unseat veteran Nick Foles as the Jaguars quarterback. He’s now 4-3 as a starter and the three losses have been by seven point or less.

Foles, who guided the Eagles to a Super Bowl win after the 2017 season, returned to practice this week but won’t be eligible to come off the injured reserve list until Week 11.

If Minshew continues to play well, should Jacksonville stick with him? asked five former players turned analysts to weigh in on the question last week. Four of the analysts — LaDainian Tomlinson, Michael Robinson, Marcel Reece, and DeAngelo Hall — said the Jaguars need to return to Foles when he’s healthy. But former quarterback David Carr said stick with Minshew, writing that, “There’s a sentiment that a player shouldn’t lose his job because of injury, but a player does lose his job if the guy who is replacing him has played well.”

So, if the Jags stick with Minshew, does that mean Foles might be available in a trade in the off-season? And if so, would the Bucs be interested?

It’s wildly premature for such speculation, but is it wrong to wonder about the possibility?

AFC South may be league’s best

Of course, the Jaguars may need to make the playoffs if its going to choose Minshew over Foles, and that’s a tall order in the highly competitive AFC South. The Colts, with a dramatic win over the Broncos, lead the division at 5-2. The Texans sit in second at 5-3, and the Jags and Titans are right behind at 4-4. It’s an intriguing division with stout defenses, strong running games (Houston, Jacksonville and Indianapolis rank in the top 10) and young quarterbacks, provided Jacksonville stays with Minshew. It all makes you believe that a turnaround isn’t out of the realm of possibilities for any team, even the Bucs.

Dolphins keep champagne on ice

Niners running back Tevin Coleman scores against Carolina Sunday. Coleman finished with 105 yards on 11 carries and four touchdowns. [TONY AVELAR | AP]

The 1972 Miami Dolphins have been known to break open a bottle of bubbly after the league’s last unbeaten team loses, preserving their perfect season. On Sunday, the 49ers and the Patriots postponed that celebration for at least week with impressive wins. The Niners (7-0) riddled the Panthers 51-13, two weeks after Carolina beat the Bucs, with Tevin Coleman rushing for 105 yards on 11 carries and scoring four touchdowns. San Francisco still has to stave off the Seahawks and the Rams to win the division, and six of their remaining nine games are against teams with winning records, including the Packers and Ravens. But Sunday’s win sends a message.

Meanwhile, the Patriots (8-0) just keep rolling. In the NFL, an unbeaten schedule at the halfway must impress, but let’s be clear, New England hasn’t beaten anyone. Of the wins, only one is against a team with a winning record and the Bills (5-2) have yet to prove themselves as legitimate contenders. The other seven opponents are a combined 9-40 and none of those teams have have won more than two games. What lies ahead for New England? Greater challenges. Five of its last eight will be against teams that stand at .500 or better: Ravens, Eagles, Cowboys, Texans and Chiefs. The Patriots host Kansas City on Dec. 8 in a rematch of last year’s AFC Championship game that New England narrowly won 37-31. Miami may yet enjoy that celebratory toast.

Thumbs up for Brees, Saints

Saints quarterback Drew Brees successfully returned to action with a stellar game against the Cardinals Sunday. [GERALD HERBERT | AP]

Saints quarterback Drew Brees returned to action with a surgically-repaired thumb and looked no worse for the wear, throwing for 373 yards and three touchdowns in a 31-9 victory over Arizona.

“I definitely had some butterflies, maybe a little more than usual,” Brees said. “A lot of it was just excitement. And then as game time approached, that just turned into gratitude — just grateful for the opportunity to get back out there again. I’m grateful for this team. I’m grateful for just this moment.”

New Orleans (7-1) now sits comfortably atop the NFC South, with second-place Carolina (4-3) lagging behind and the Bucs (2-5) and Falcons (1-6) all but done. The Saints now take the week off before returning to action with four consecutive games against division foes. They could easily be 11-1 when they host San Francisco on Dec. 8.

Bronco broiling

Unlike the Bears, the Colts got a last-second field goal from venerable Adam Vinatieri to beat the Broncos 15-13, but Denver quarterback Joe Flacco brought a different brand of drama with his postgame comments.

When Denver took over at the Colts 48 midway through the fourth quarter, clinging to a 13-12 lead, the Broncos called two short passes and one run before punting. When the Broncos took over at their own 38 with 3:37 left, they called four runs and one short pass before another punt.

“I just look at it like we’re now a 2-6 football team and we’re like afraid to go for it in a 2-minute drill,” quarterback Joe Flacco said. “Who cares if you give it back to the guys with 1:40 left? They obviously got the field goal anyway. Once again, we’re a 2-6 football team and it just feels like we’re kind of afraid to lose a game.”

Ex Gator fails in Bears game

Bears and former Gators kicker Eddy Pineiro walks off the field after missing a field at the end of Chicago's loss to the Chargers. [CHARLES REX ARBOGAST | AP]

Chicago fans had hoped former Florida kicker Eddy Pineiro solved its kicking woes, but Pineiro missed a 41-yard field goal as time expired and the Chargers hung on to beat the Bears 17-16 on Sunday. Pineiro also hit an upright earlier in the game, but Bears coach Matt Nagy, probably unintentionally, spared his kicker from scrutiny with some questionable play-calling at the end of the game. Chicago had quarterback Mitchell Trubisky take a knee with about 40 seconds left rather than try to get closer to the goal line because Nagy didn’t want to risk a fumble. He responded tersely when asked why he didn’t try to get closer.

Ex Lions great pays up with humor

Former Lions kicker Jason Hanson paid off a humorous debt on Sunday because he missed a kick years ago. [RICK OSENTOSKI | AP]

Jason Hanson has paid off a debt and gotten a good laugh.

The former Detroit kicking great handed a $25 check to reporter Kyle Meinke on Sunday at Ford Field and shared a true tale involving one of the writers who covers the Lions.

Hanson, with reporters gathered around in the Ford Field press box, read aloud from a letter Meinke mailed him 25 years ago.

Meinke, who penned the note when he was 8, asked Hanson to send him a $25 check to make up for money he cost him in a squares pool after the two-time Pro Bowl kicker missed a 30-yard field goal in the second quarter of a loss to Green Bay in a wild-card game in 1994. Hanson made the connection that the young boy who wrote him a letter, which he has kept laminated, became a sports writer after reading a story Meinke wrote about Lions long snapper Don Muhlbach.

“The check is the coolest piece of memorabilia I’ve gotten doing this job,” the 33-year-old Meinke said. “The full circle part of this is blowing my mind right now.”

Et cetera

Texans defensive end J.J. Watt tweeted Sunday night that he wouldn’t play again this season after suffering a reported pectoral injury. “This game can be beautiful and it can also be brutal,” Watt wrote. … Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson set a new mark Sunday, becoming the first player in NFL history to record at least one touchdown pass and zero interceptions in eight consecutive road games. … Cooper Kupp had seven receptions for a career-high 220 yards and a touchdown in the Rams’ 24-10 win over the Bengals.

Contact Ernest Hooper at Follow @hoop4you.