JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – During training camp, new Jaguars head coach Doug Pederson introduced the team to a philosophy endorsed by motivational speaker and former Navy SEAL Jocko Willink, a worldview in one word: “Good.”
“When things go wrong, don’t give up,” Willink said. “Don’t be disappointed. No, just look at the problem and say. “Okay.”
It’s a philosophy that turns challenge into opportunity, that puts a spark of positivity at the heart of desolation. It’s supposed to inspire hope even in the most dire of circumstances, like being down 27 points in a playoff win or a homecoming game.
Trevor Lawrence was about as low as a man can get on the football field, throwing four interceptions that contributed to that four-possession deficit. He gave off an image of calmness, but inside he was at war with himself. Lawrence, who once went 41 games in high school and then 29 more in college, knew his team needed him to pass, but he couldn’t stop the Chargers from putting the ball in their hands.
So when the lineman came up to Lawrence and said, simply, “OK,” Lawrence’s first instinct was to cut it, thinking, “What? It’s not time.
But as it turned out, Lawrence would do the rest of the game, very well indeed.
Trevor Lawrence. “There is no 27-point game”
For most of the first half, the only happy Jaguars fan at TIAA Bank Field was a tattooed gentleman babbling happily—and very alone—in one of the pools above the stadium’s end zone. Yes, he had seen Lawrence throw a four-by-four. — First-half interruptions, but at least he was in a heated pool while the rest of the stadium shivered in 40-degree temperatures.
Lawrence’s woes started early, with his first career playoff touchdown pass early. The Chargers’ Joey Bosa deflected a pass at the line and Drew Tranquill plucked it out of the air. Two plays later, Justin Herbert led the Chargers into the end zone. Los Angeles was up 7-0 less than 90 seconds into the game.
It got worse, got worse. Another botched Lawrence pass, another interception, then another and another. The Jaguars’ first six possessions were NSFW: fumble, interception, fumble, interception, fumble, interception, then fumble. That’s five turnovers that gave the Chargers a 27-0 lead with 4:25 left in the first half.
Jacksonville might be the only stadium that still proudly plays Limp Bizkit and gets a welcome response. down four possessions, Jaguars fans had to cheer for all they could. Lawrence started the eighth half for Jacksonville at halfback, and by then Jaguars fans were watching through their fingers while the rest of the NFL world was wondering how bad it was going to be. Will Lawrence top Brett Favre’s Super Bowl-era playoff record of six interceptions? Will the Jaguars realize they made a mistake firing Urban Meyer? Would the franchise score just once for good at halftime for London? For heaven’s sake, the Jaguars weren’t going to let Lawrence throw again, were they?
Confused, Lawrence looked around at his teammates. “There is no such thing as a 27-point game,” he said. “We have to take this one game at a time.”
And then he did just that. 12-yard pass right to Travis Etienne. 4-yard pass to Christian Kirk on the left side. 12-yard pass to Marvin Jones Jr. at center field. And then a 5-yarder to Evan Engram in the end zone. Just like that, the Jaguars were on the board and running to the locker room with hope.
“I just had to fit in. We couldn’t get any momentum going, we couldn’t get going,” Lawrence said. “I knew when we got the momentum back, we’ve been in that situation before.”
“Everybody rallied around him, everybody rallied around each other,” Marvin Jones Jr. said in the locker room after the game. “It was a great conversation on the sidelines. It never pointed a finger, it was never, “Oh my God.” More, “I know that won’t happen.”
Unbeaten in Saturday football
In the second half, like the lone Jaguars swimmer above the field, The Chargers found themselves in hot water, and like the proverbial frog, they didn’t realize the danger they were in until it was too hot to escape. Lawrence went from a tentative, underachieving embarrassment to the sleek, confident yard-gobbling machine he became in the second half of the season.
“Once we picked up the pace, we started getting our looks and winning one-on-one matchups,” Jones said. “I feel like we can go up against anybody and have success.”
The numbers don’t always tell the story, but they do. Lawrence threw four interceptions and then four touchdowns. His passer rating was 24.5 in the first half; in the second half: 144.5. It was a miniature version of the Jaguars’ entire season. losing five of their first six, then winning their last five to make the playoffs on the final weekend of the season.
“It kind of epitomizes our season,” Lawrence said. “We never get out of it. When you believe, and everyone else believes, it’s amazing what you can accomplish.”
After this miraculous 31-30 victory, the Jaguars’ future now looks as bright as the eye-popping maroon that dominates their stadium. Lawrence lined up against the Chargers, establishing himself as one of the AFC’s up-and-coming quarterbacks to watch. He’s undefeated on Saturdays in high school, college and the pros, though none of those wins have been as hard hitting as this one. At 23 years old, he is the undisputed leader of the Jaguars locker room, proving it in the most definitive way possible.
“When you see him not blink and go out there and put it all on the line,” Kirk said, “it’s easy to get behind a guy like that.”
A scary sight in Jacksonville
Minutes after Riley Patterson’s game-winning field goal, as the delirious Jaguars walked off the field and into the hallway below the stadium, team owner Shad Khan, in a white sharp coat and black pants, greeted and hugged the players and coaches. Oops and shouts filled the air, some speechless, some profanity, all rapture. Linebacker Shaquille Quarterman carried a huge Jaguar flag, likely borrowed from a cheerleader.
“Do you believe in miracles?” someone shouted, probably unaware that the man who had made that classic call 43 years earlier was several floors above them, having just called their victory as well. It wasn’t a gold medal game, but it felt as good as any win in Jacksonville in a long time.
“Typical of us, huh?” Jones laughed. “We know how to throw a good party.”
“It’s easy to say in hindsight, but you don’t win a game like this if you don’t believe in yourself,” Lawrence said. “I am proud of this group, this city. A special night for a lot of people and I’m just grateful to everyone who played a part in it.”
The Jaguars now await the results of the rest of this weekend’s games. If the Ravens and Dolphins can overcome the loss of their starting quarterbacks and pull off an upset on Sunday, Jacksonville will host Baltimore next week. Otherwise, the Jaguars will head to either Buffalo or Kansas City. Any option is good for Jacksonville.
Contact Jay Busbee at [email protected] or on Twitter at @jaybusbee.