JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — This Jaguars‘ season has been defined by overcoming adversity.
In the spring, Jacksonville overcame the bad habits of a years-long losing culture. During the regular season, the team overcame a 2-6 start — including a five-game losing streak spanning all of October — to win the AFC South in stunning fashion.
Now, the team has overcome a seemingly insurmountable deficit to keep its unlikely season alive.
In a playoff comeback for the ages, the Jaguars overcame a 27-0 deficit in the first half to beat the Chargers 31-30 Saturday night at TIAA Bank Field in an AFC wild-card game with a 36-yard field goal from place kicker Riley Patterson as time expired.
The comeback was the third-largest in NFL playoff history. It was the biggest since the Colts overcame a 28-point deficit against the Chiefs in a 2014 AFC wild-card game.
“It kind of sums up our season, that game tonight,” said Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence.
The Chargers had been in cruise control Saturday after registering five first-half takeaways, including four interceptions by Lawrence. It was a nightmare start for the former No. 1 overall pick’s playoff debut, one of the worst in postseason history.
Then everything changed.
Lawrence led five straight scoring drives, including four consecutive touchdowns, to end the game. The surge began right before halftime.
All were touchdown passes by Lawrence — nine yards to tight end Evan Engram (seven receptions, 93 yards), and strikes of six, 39 and nine yards to receivers Marvin Jones (three receptions, 29 yards), Zay Jones (eight receptions, 74 yards) and Christian Kirk (eight receptions, 78 yards), respectively. The decision to play with more tempo opened the floodgates, as the Chargers unraveled.
After completing just 41.6% of his passes (10-of-24) for 77 yards and a touchdown with four picks in the first half, Lawrence connected on an impressive 78.2% of his throws (18-of-23) for 211 yards and three touchdowns with zero interceptions in the final two quarters. After an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Chargers edge rusher Joey Bosa allowed the Jaguars to attempt a two-point conversion from the 1-yard line, Lawrence converted it with a jump and stretch to get the ball across the plane. That cut Jacksonville’s deficit to 30-28 with 5:25 left on the clock.
Through it all, Lawrence continued to affirm why he’s a true franchise quarterback and why he’ll be a force to be reckoned with in the AFC for years to come. He showed his mental toughness after the worst half of football he’s ever played to deliver on the stage all legendary quarterbacks make their mark.
In Lawrence’s mind, he had no choice but to maintain a level head.
“I told the guys in the huddle, ‘There’s no 27-point plays. It’s going to be one play at a time.'” Lawrence said. “That’s what it took, one play at a time, all the way down the field, just again and again and again. All we can do at this point is just try to score every drive, then trust our defense.
“It’s tough when you’re struggling and not playing well, but if I don’t continue to be myself, we don’t have a shot to win because then I’m going to miss the plays that I usually make,” he continued. “I just had to keep my confidence. Missed a few throws; I think [on] some of those turnovers I was being a little cautious. After that I felt like I kind of got back on track and settled in.”
Lawrence finished the game completing 59.6% of his passes for 288 yards and four touchdowns with four interceptions.
“He came out and said, ‘Screw it. I’m going to let it fly,’” safety Andrew Wingard said of Lawrence’s second-half approach. “It was just unbelievable.”
“He never flinches,” first-year Jaguars coach Doug Pederson added of Lawrence. “I played with one of the greatest quarterbacks ever in Brett Favre and there were times he didn’t have a great first half and came back in the second half and could light it up. That’s what I love about Trevor and his demeanor and his aggressiveness and the ability to just forget and move on.”
Pederson’s fourth-and-1 decision at the Chargers 41 with 1:27 left will go down as one of the most memorable playcalls in franchise history. Pederson called a timeout after seeing the Chargers’ defensive alignment and changed the play to an outside run by star running back Travis Etienne Jr., who picked up 25 yards to set up Patterson’s game-winning field goal.
Etienne had a game-high 109 rushing yards on 20 carries.
“I was kind of mad at first because I thought it was going to work,” Lawrence said of the initial fourth-and-1 call. “Then [Pederson] got the new call in, and just got the ball in Travis’ hands, and he makes a play like that, wins the game for us essentially. Obviously Riley won the game, but putting us in position there. It takes a lot of guts there, fourth-and-1 and game on the line, and just the guys up front, they just mashed them. They set the edge, and Travis was rolling.”
The Jaguars defense also deserves plenty of credit. In the second half, the Chargers had just four possessions and were held to three points. A 14-play L.A. drive ended with a missed 40-yard field goal by place kicker Cameron Dicker in the final period.
“Our job when the offense was rolling was to get the ball back to them as soon as possible,” said linebacker Foye Oluokun, “and they’ll just take the game over.”
The Jaguars advance to the divisional round, where the opponent and location will be determined after Sunday’s games. For a spot in the conference championship game, Jacksonville will play on the road if it faces a higher seed or at home against a lower seed.
Jacksonville’s stunning season under Pederson, a Super Bowl-winning coach with the Eagles, charges on. The team enters the divisional round on a six-game winning streak. The Jaguars started the year 2-6 but won seven of their last nine regular-season games, including Week 18 against the Titans for the AFC South title.
After six of their eight losses came by one score, the Jaguars learned to embrace adversity. Beating the Raiders in Week 9, when they trailed 17-0 in the first half, showed the team what it’s capable of.
“Obviously, we don’t want to get in these situations,” Marvin Jones said, “but we’ve had the experience this year to be able to overcome these types of situations.”
Now, they continue to dance.
Ben Arthur is the AFC South reporter for FOX Sports. He previously worked for The Tennessean/USA TODAY Network, where he was the Titans beat writer for a year and a half. He covered the Seattle Seahawks for SeattlePI.com for three seasons (2018-20) prior to moving to Tennessee. You can follow Ben on Twitter at @benyarthur.
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