After the basket was hit, after the idea of the third-greatest comeback in playoff history became a reality, Trevor Lawrence spun in circles with his head cocked forward, running towards his jaguars teammates as a child who finally got permission to join his friends at recess.
That celebratory moment, that expression, that aura, that vibe, that smile, would have seemed remarkable if it hadn’t been glued to his face for most of the night. Of course, Lawrence looked unhappy with each of the four interceptions he threw in the first half. He puckered his lips in that weird, Peyton Manning-like frown we all do after we finish a bag of Sour Patch Kids. After the third, he looked at the video card as if it might contain some sort of basic quarterback PowerPoint that he could use for the second half.
But, he also kept walking to the sideline like he owned the place, like having to go through quarterback hell and scout one of the best opposite quarterbacks, top rushing tandems and the league’s most expensive secondaries 27 points were all part of the plan. And, amid a season where players seemed better than ever at sniffing out the fake confidence, fake personality and fake talent of their own quarterbacks, no one seemed to blink. His teammates trusted him. Many fans didn’t turn off their televisions. Somehow, everyone knew it was at least possible. Somehow, Lawrence had everyone roped in.
We Can Call Saturday and Jacksonville’s 31-30 win over the Chargers, Lawrence’s night arrival in the NFL. And, as the self-help guru says, it required a journey through worst of all. Take your pick from the platitudes. It’s always darkest before dawn or, as John Wooden said, things work best for those who make the most of the way things work. Lawrence became the first player in modern NFL playoff history to throw three picks in a quarterback. He was the first to throw four in a playoff half since Brett Favre in 2001. He was pretty darn close to perfect in the second half, too. The Jaguars became the first team in NFL history to win a playoff game in which they had a minus five turnover margin and only the 29th team to do so… ever.
The comeback – 27-0 in the first half, and 30-14 at the end of the third quarter and still down 10 points when winning the ball with 8:47 left – says a lot about Lawrence, but it also says a lot about a franchise that was similarly, collectively, supported in the worst possible situation just a little over a year ago. If their owner hadn’t been mercifully willing to do what billionaires almost never do – admit a mistake, admit, in some indirect way, that he was duped, duped, cheated, lied to, and in the process , create a promising young franchise on a trip to the nearest iceberg – we may be talking right now about what the Jaguars would do with the No. 1 pick in the 2023 Draft. We may be talking about the need to fly to Duval and rescue Lawrence ourselves. We may be talking about Urban Meyer’s kick many players (gasp). It’s strange to think—of know– that this quarterback, this team, this kind of promise and this (statistically) unlikely six-game, seven-of-eight winning streak that began with a 10-point loss to the Chiefs in Week 10 existed somewhere. part in the DNA of a team that went 3-14 a year ago.
It’s even weirder that the Jaguars managed to shrewdly limit their time in the abyss of post-Meyer football. From coaching dunce to swaggering genius. Wasted talent with unlimited potential. Jacksonville’s second half was kind of a shrewd take on that.
The Jaguars’ season will come full circle in many ways next weekend at Arrowhead (if the heavily favored Bills and Bengals both win) where, in the same locker room before Thanksgiving, coach Doug Pederson predicted that all of this would happen. But that really doesn’t matter. The Jaguars could be waxed again by Patrick Mahomes, but they still fulfilled their contribution to the spirit of football in 2022. They showed us the power to admit our biggest mistakes. They showed us how important it is to keep swinging (or, in Lawrence’s case, more than a stab, especially on the critical two-point conversion try in the fourth quarter). They showed us what happens when you let football players be young and fun, taking out the damn T-formation on a fourth-and-a-crit as if the Jaguars were taking on the Air Force; like the Jaguars are in a backyard somewhere and not about to make NFL history.
For the franchise, that moment was as massive and important as first place in North Florida. A 24-13 ho-hum win over the Chargers wouldn’t have done the trick. Some defensive moves, like last Saturday night’s game against the Titans that propelled them into the playoffs to begin with, wouldn’t have carried the proper symbolism.
Several times during their mostly unsuccessful run as a franchise, the Jaguars have come to life before going flat again. But 2021 was the worst. The year before this should have cemented them as a footballing outpost of laughing stock for a decade. And instead, through it all, Lawrence came out smiling. There is nothing more precious.