JACKSONVILLE, FLORIDA — During training camp, new Jaguars head coach Doug Pederson introduced the team to a worldview endorsed by motivational speaker and former Navy SEAL Jocko Willink, a worldview that can be summarized in a single word: “Good.”
“When things aren’t going well, don’t get too down,” Willink has said. “Do not become frustrated. No, simply look at the problem and say, ‘Good.'”
It’s a philosophy that turns adversity into opportunity, that finds a ray of hope at the heart of despair. It’s meant to instill hope even in the most dire of circumstances, such as being down 27 points in a win-or-go-home playoff game.
Trevor Lawrence was about as low as a man can get on a football field, throwing four interceptions that contributed to the four-possession deficit. He put on a calm exterior, but on the inside, he was at odds with himself. Lawrence, who once went 41 games without losing in high school and another 29 in college, knew his team needed him to come through, but he couldn’t stop throwing the ball into the hands of the Chargers.
So when a lineman approached Lawrence and simply said, “Good,” Lawrence’s first reaction was to brush it off, thinking, Not the time.
But, as it turned out, Lawrence would spend the rest of the game performing admirably.
Trevor Lawrence of the Jaguars dives in for a 2-point conversion in the fourth quarter of Saturday’s AFC wild-card game against the Chargers, cutting a 27-point deficit to 2. (Photo courtesy of Don Juan Moore/Getty Images) )
‘There are no 27-point plays,’ says Trevor Lawrence.
The only happy Jaguars fan in TIAA Bank Field for most of the first half was the heavily tattooed gentleman bobbing merrily — and very much alone — in one of the pools high above the stadium’s end zone. Yes, he had seen Lawrence throw four — four! — interceptions in the first half, but at least he was in a heated pool while the rest of the stadium shivered in sub-40°F temperatures.
Lawrence’s problems started early, like his first playoff pass of his career. Joey Bosa of the Chargers tipped the pass at the line, and Drue Tranquill snatched it out of the air. Justin Herbert led the Chargers into the end zone two plays later. Los Angeles led 7-0 less than 90 seconds into the game.
It got much, much worse. Another errant Lawrence pass, another interception — and then more. The Jaguars’ first six possessions were NSFW: interception, interception, punt, interception, punt, interception, punt, interception, punt, interception, and then a muffed punt. With 4:25 remaining in the first half, the Chargers had built a 27-0 lead thanks to five turnovers.
Jacksonville may be the only stadium that proudly plays Limp Bizkit and receives a warm reception; trailing by four possessions, Jaguars fans had to cheer for what they could. Lawrence started Jacksonville’s eighth possession of the half at midfield, and by then, Jaguars fans were watching through their fingers, while the rest of the NFL was wondering how bad this could get. Is Lawrence capable of breaking Brett Favre’s Super Bowl-era playoff record of six interceptions? Will the Jaguars realize they erred in firing Urban Meyer? At halftime, would the franchise simply leave for London? For God’s sake, the Jaguars weren’t going to let Lawrence throw another pass, were they?
Lawrence looked around the huddle at his teammates. “There are no 27-point plays,” he explained. “We have to take it one play at a time.”
And then he did just that. Travis Etienne on the right side receives a 12-yard pass. Christian Kirk on the left receives a 4-yard pass. Marvin Jones Jr. caught a 12-yard pass in the middle of the field. Then a 5-yard touchdown pass to Evan Engram in the end zone. The Jaguars were on the board and running into the locker room with a glimmer of hope.
“I just needed to get settled. “We couldn’t get any momentum or drive going,” Lawrence explained. “I knew we’d be in that situation again once we regained momentum.”
“Everybody rallied around him, everybody rallied around each other,” Marvin Jones Jr. said after the game in the locker room. “We had a great conversation on the sidelines. It was never pointing fingers or exclaiming, ‘Oh my gosh.’ ‘I know this isn’t going to happen,’ he says.
Saturday football is undefeated.
The Chargers found themselves in hot water in the second half, much like the lone Jaguars swimmer high above the field, and, like the proverbial frog, they didn’t realize it until it was far too late to escape. Lawrence went from a tentative, misfiring embarrassment to the sleek, confident yardage-devouring machine he’d become in the second half of the season.
“Once we picked up the tempo, we started getting looks and winning one-on-one battles,” Jones explained. “I believe we can compete against anyone and win.”
Numbers alone do not always tell the whole story, but these do: Lawrence threw four interceptions before scoring four times. His passer rating was 24.5 in the first half and 144.5 in the second half. It was a microcosm of the Jaguars’ entire season: they lost five of their first six games before winning five straight to storm into the playoffs on the season’s final weekend.
“It kind of sums up our season,” Lawrence says. “We never get out of it. It’s amazing what you can accomplish when you believe and everyone else believes.”
The Jaguars’ future now looks as bright as the eye-searing teal that dominates their stadium after this miraculous 31-30 victory. Lawrence stepped up against the Chargers, cementing his place as one of the AFC’s must-see quarterbacks of the future. He is undefeated on Saturdays in high school, college, and the pros, though none have been as difficult as this one. He’s the undisputed leader of the Jaguars’ locker room at the age of 23, and he’s proving it in the most definitive way possible.
“It’s easy to get behind a guy like that when you see him not blinking and going out there and putting it all on the line,” Kirk said.
Jacksonville has a rowdy scene.
As the delirious Jaguars streamed off the field and into the hallway beneath the stadium minutes after Riley Patterson’s game-winning field goal, team owner Shad Khan, dressed sharply in a white sportcoat and black slacks, greeted and embraced players and coaches. The air was filled with whoops and shouts, some wordless, some profane, all ecstatic. Linebacker Shaquille Quarterman carried a massive Jaguar flag that was most likely borrowed from a cheerleader.
“Do you believe in miracles?” someone exclaimed, probably unaware that the man who’d made that classic call 43 years before was just a few floors above them, having just called their victory as well. Although this was not a gold medal game, it felt as good as any victory in Jacksonville in a long time.
“Typical of us, eh?” Jones burst out laughing. “We know how to have a good time.”
“It’s easy to say afterward, but you don’t win a game like that unless you believe in yourself,” Lawrence said. “I’m proud of this group and this city. It was a special night for a lot of people, and I’m grateful to everyone who contributed to it.”
The Jaguars now await the results of the remaining games this weekend. If the Ravens and Dolphins pull off upsets despite losing their starting quarterbacks on Sunday, Jacksonville will host Baltimore the following week. If not, the Jaguars will travel to either Buffalo or Kansas City. Every possible option is good for Jacksonville.