After the field goal was scored, after the idea of the third-greatest comeback in postseason history materialized, Trevor Lawrence spun in circles with his head bent forward, running to his Jaguars teammates like a kid who was finally allowed to join friends at recess.
This celebratory moment, this expression, this radiance, this mood, this smile, would have seemed remarkable if he hadn’t plastered his face almost all night. Sure, Lawrence seemed unsatisfied with each of the four interceptions he threw in the first half. He would pull his lips up into that odd, Peyton Manning-esque smile-frown we all do after polishing off a bag of Sour Patch Kids. After the third, he looked at the video board as if it might contain some kind of quarterbacking powerpoint that he could use for the second half.
But he also kept walking back to the sideline like he was in charge, like he was struggling through quarterback hell and one of the best in return for quarterbacks, best pass rushing tandems and most expensive secondaries in the league 27 points were all part of the plan. And in a season when players seemed to be better than ever at sniffing out fake confidence, fake personality, and fake talent in their own quarterbacks, no one seemed to bat an eyelid. His teammates trusted him. Many fans do not turn off their television. Somehow everyone knew that this was at least possible. Somehow Lawrence had tied everyone together.
We can call on Saturday, and Jacksonville’s 31-30 wild card victory over the Chargers the night Lawrence arrived at the NFL. And, as the self-help guru says, it necessitated a journey through the worst of all. Choose from the platitudes. It’s always darkest before sunrise or, as John Wooden said, things work out best for those who make the most of them. Lawrence became the first player in modern NFL playoff history to throw three picks in one quarter. He was the first to throw four in a playoff half since Brett Favre in 2001. He was also damn near perfect in the second half. The Jaguars became the first team in NFL history to win a playoff game in which they had minus five in turnover margin and only the 29th team to do so…ever.
The comeback – from trailing 27-0 in the first half and trailing 30-14 late in the third quarter and still trailing 10 points in taking the ball with 8:47 left to play – says a lot about Lawrence , but it also says a lot about a franchise that similarly found itself collectively in the worst possible situation a little over a year ago. If their owner wasn’t mercifully willing to do what billionaires almost never do: admit a mistake, indirectly admit to being conned, duped, duped, lied to and, in the process, set up a promising fledgling franchise on a journey down the road to the nearest iceberg – we’re currently maybe talking about what the Jaguars would do with the number 1 pick in the 2023 draft. We might be talking about airlifting to Duval to save Lawrence himself. We might be talking about kicking Urban Meyer multiple players (sob). It’s strange to think – to know— that this quarterback, this team, this kind of promise, and this (statistically) improbable run of six straight wins, and seven of eight, that began with a 10-point loss to the Chiefs in Week 10, was somewhere in the DNA of a team that went 3–14 a year ago.
Stranger still, the Jaguars managed to artfully limit their time in the post-Meyer football abyss. From coaching dunce to boastful genius. From wasted talent to limitless potential. The second half of Jacksonville was kind of a crafty interpretation of that.
In many ways, the Jaguars’ season will come full circle next weekend at Arrowhead (should the much-loved Bills and Bengals both win), where coach Doug Pederson in the same locker room before Thanksgiving predicted all this would happen. But it really doesn’t matter. The Jaguars could get waxed again by Patrick Mahomes, but they still fulfilled their contribution to the football zeitgeist in 2022. They showed us the power of admitting our biggest mistakes. They showed us the value of keeping swinging (or, in Lawrence’s case, more stabbing, especially on the critical two-point conversion attempt in the fourth quarter). They showed us what happens when you let footballers be young and fun, slam the goddamn T-formation on a critical fourth and first like the Jaguars are up against the Air Force; as if the Jaguars were in a backyard somewhere and not about to make NFL history.
For the franchise, this moment was as huge and important as breaking ground in North Florida in the first place. A ho-hum 24–13 win over the Chargers wouldn’t fit. Some defensive trudges, like last Saturday night’s game against the Titans that took them to the playoffs to begin with, wouldn’t have carried proper symbolism.
Several times in their largely unsuccessful run as a franchise, the Jaguars have sprung to life before flatlining again. But 2021 was the worst. The year leading up to this should have cemented them as a ridiculous football outpost for a decade. And instead, through it all, Lawrence came out smiling. Nothing is more valuable.