NFL Playoffs: Trevor Lawrence rises to the next level

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.”

“If things go badly, don’t get disappointed,” Willink said. “Don’t get frustrated. No, just look at the problem and say, ‘Good.’”

It is a philosophy that turns challenge into opportunity, locating a spark of positivity at the core of desolation. It should bring hope even in the direst of circumstances, like trailing 27 points in a win-or-go home playoff game, for example.

Trevor Lawrence was pretty much as low as a man can get on a football field, with four interceptions contributing to that four-possession deficit. He radiated calm, but inside he was at war with himself. Lawrence—who once went 41 games in high school without losing, then another 29 in college—knew his team needed him to get through, but he couldn’t stop putting the ball in the hands of the Chargers. to throw.

So when a lineman came up to Lawrence and simply said “Good,” Lawrence’s first instinct was to disapprove, thinking: Not the time.

But it turned out that Lawrence would be very good indeed for the rest of the game.

JACKSONVILLE, FL - JANUARY 14: Quarterback Trevor Lawrence #16 of the Jacksonville Jaguars dives in for a two-point conversion during the AFC Wild Card Playoffs game against the Los Angeles Chargers at TIAA Bank Field on January 14, 2023 in Jacksonville, Florida.  The Jaguars defeated the Chargers 31 to 30. (Photo by Don Juan Moore/Getty Images)

The Jaguars’ Trevor Lawrence dives in for a 2-point conversion that cut a whopping 27-point deficit to 2 in the fourth quarter of Saturday’s AFC wild card game against the Chargers. (Photo by Don Juan Moore/Getty Images)

Trevor Lawrence: ‘There is no 27-point play’

For most of the first half, the only lucky Jaguars fan in all of TIAA Bank Field was the heavily tattooed gentleman happily floating—and very much alone—in one of the pools high above the stadium’s end zone. Yes, he had seen Lawrence throw four – four! – first half interceptions, but at least he sat in a heated pool while the rest of the stadium shivered in temperatures below 40 degrees.

Lawrence’s woes started early, as the first playoff pass of his career early. The Chargers’ Joey Bosa tipped the pass at the line and Drue Tranquill roped it out of the air. Two plays later, Justin Herbert led the Chargers to the end zone. Less than 90 seconds into the game, Los Angeles led 7-0.

It got worse, so much worse. Another errant Lawrence pass, another interception – then another, and another. The Jaguars’ first six possessions were NSFW: interception, interception, punt, interception, punt, interception, then a muffled punt. That’s five turnovers the Chargers built into a 27-0 lead with 4:25 left in the first half.

Jacksonville may be the only stadium that still proudly plays Limp Bizkit and receives a welcome response; with four possessions, Jaguars fans had to cheer for what they could. Lawrence started Jacksonville’s eighth possession of the half in center field, and by then Jaguars fans were watching through their fingers and the rest of the NFL world was wondering how bad this was going to get. Would Lawrence surpass Brett Favre’s Super Bowl-era playoff record of six interceptions? Would the Jaguars realize they made a mistake firing Urban Meyer? Would the franchise leave for London once and for all at half-time? For heaven’s sake, the Jaguars wouldn’t let Lawrence pitch again, right?

In the group, Lawrence looked around at his teammates. “There’s no 27-point play,” he said. “We have to do this one piece at a time.”

And then he did just that. A 12 yard pass to Travis Etienne on the right. A 4m pass to Christian Kirk on the left. A 12-yard pass to Marvin Jones Jr. in the middle of the field. And then a 5-yarder to Evan Engram in the end zone. Just like that, the Jaguars were on the board and ran hopefully into the locker room.

“I just had to get used to it. We got no momentum, no drive,” said Lawrence. “I knew that once we got the momentum back, we’ve been in that situation before.”

“Everyone rallied around him, everyone rallied around each other,” said Marvin Jones Jr. in the locker room after the game. “It was a nice conversation on the sidelines. It was never pointing fingers, it was never, ‘Oh my God.’ More like, ‘I know this isn’t going to happen.’”

Undefeated in Saturday football

In the second half, like the lone Jaguars swimmer high above the field, the Chargers were in hot water, and like the proverbial frog, they didn’t realize the danger they were in until it was far too hot to escape. Lawrence transformed from a tentative, botched embarrassment to the sleek, confident, garden-devouring machine he’d been in the second half of the season.

“Once we picked up the pace, we started getting our looks and winning one-on-one matchups,” said Jones. “I feel like we can compete against anyone and be successful.”

Numbers don’t always tell the story, but this one does: Lawrence threw four interceptions, then four touchdowns. His passer score in the first half was 24.5; 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 storm into the playoffs on the final weekend of the season.

“It kind of epitomizes our season,” said Lawrence. “We are never done. If you believe and everyone believes, it’s cool what you can achieve.”

After this miraculous 31-30 win, the Jaguars’ future now looks as bright as the dazzling teal that dominates their stadium. Taking on the Chargers, Lawrence established himself as one of the quarterbacks of the future for the AFC to watch. He’s undefeated in high school, college and the pros on Saturday, though none of those wins have been as tough as this one. At 23 years old, he is the undisputed leader of the Jaguars locker room, which he proves in the most definitive way.

“When you see him not blink and go out and risk it all,” Kirk said, “it’s easy to get behind a man like that.”

Raw scene in Jacksonville

In the minutes following Riley Patterson’s game-winning field goal, as the frantic Jaguars poured off the field and poured into the corridor beneath the stadium, team owner Shad Khan, dressed in a sharp white sport coat and black slacks, greeted and hugged players and coaches. Howls and screams filled the air, some wordless, some blasphemous, all ecstatic. Linebacker Shaquille Quarterman wore a huge Jaguar flag, probably borrowed from a cheerleader.

“Do you believe in miracles?” someone yelled, probably unaware that the man who made that classic call 43 years ago was standing a few floors above them and had just called out their victory as well. This wasn’t a gold medal game, but it felt as good as any Jacksonville win in a long time.

“Typical us, huh?” Jones laughed. “We know how to throw a good party.”

“It’s easy to say it with hindsight, but you don’t win a game like that if you don’t believe in yourself,” said Lawrence. “Proud of this group, this city. Special night for a lot of people, and I’m just thankful for everyone who played a part in it.

The Jaguars now await the outcome of the rest of this weekend’s games. If the Ravens and Dolphins manage to get over the loss of their starting quarterbacks and upset Sunday, Jacksonville will host Baltimore next week. Otherwise, the Jaguars will go to Buffalo or Kansas City. For Jacksonville, any possible option is good.

Trevor Lawrence was looking forward to a miracle win on Saturday night.  (Kevin Sabitus/Getty Images)

Trevor Lawrence was looking forward to a miracle win on Saturday night. (Kevin Sabitus/Getty Images)

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Contact Jay Busbee at jay.busbee@yahoo.com or on Twitter at @jaybusbee.

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