JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Back 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 a single word: “Good.”
“When things are going bad, don’t get all bummed out,” Willink has said. “Don’t get frustrated. No, just look at the issue and say: ‘Good.’”
It’s a philosophy that turns challenge into opportunity, that locates a spark of positivity at the core of desolation. It’s supposed to fire up hope in even the most dire of circumstances – like, say, being down 27 points in a win-or-go-home playoff game.
Trevor Lawrence was pretty much as low as a man can get on a football field, having thrown four interceptions that helped contribute to that four-possession deficit. He was projecting an image of calm, but inside, he was at war with himself. Lawrence – who once went 41 games in high school without losing, and another 29 in college – knew his team needed him to come through, but he literally could not stop throwing the ball into the Chargers’ hands.
So when a lineman came up to Lawrence and said, simply, "Good," Lawrence's first instinct was to brush it off, thinking, Not the time.
But as it turned out, Lawrence would spend the rest of the game being very good indeed.
For most of the first half, the only happy Jaguars fan in all of TIAA Bank Field 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 watched Lawrence throw four – four! – first-half interceptions, but at least he was in a heated pool while the rest of the stadium was shivering in sub-40-degree temperatures.
Lawrence's woes began early – like, first playoff pass of his career early. The Chargers' Joey Bosa tipped the pass at the line, and Drue Tranquill snared it out of the air. Two plays later, Justin Herbert led the Chargers into the end zone. Less than 90 seconds into the game, Los Angeles was already ahead 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, and then a muffed punt, five turnovers that the Chargers built into a 27-0 lead with 4:25 remaining 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 what they could. Lawrence began Jacksonville’s eighth possession of the half at midfield, and by then Jaguars fans were watching through their fingers and the rest of the NFL world was wondering just how bad this was going to get. Would Lawrence top Brett Favre’s Super Bowl-era playoff record of six interceptions? Would the Jaguars realize they’d made a mistake in firing Urban Meyer? Would the franchise just light out for London once and for all at halftime? For heaven’s sake, the Jaguars weren’t going to let Lawrence throw any more, would they?
In the huddle, Lawrence looked around at his teammates. “There’s no 27-point plays,” he said. “We’ve got to do this one play at a time.”
And then he did exactly that. A 12-yard pass to Travis Etienne on the right side. A four-yard pass to Christian Kirk on the left. A 12-yard pass to Marvin Jones Jr. in the center of the field. And then a five-yarder to Evan Engram in the end zone. Just like that, the Jaguars were on the board and running into the locker room with a touch of hope.
“I just needed to settle in. We couldn’t get any momentum going, couldn’t get any drive going,” Lawrence said. “I knew once 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 great talk on the sidelines. It was never pointing fingers, it was never ‘oh my gosh.’ More like, ‘I know this isn’t going to happen.’”
In the second half, much like the lone Jaguars swimmer high above the field, the Chargers found themselves in hot water, and much like the proverbial frog, they didn't realize the danger they were in until it was far too hot to jump out. Lawrence transformed from a tentative, misfiring embarrassment into the sleek, confident yardage-devouring machine he'd been over the season's second half.
“Once we picked the tempo up, we started getting our looks and winning one-on-one matchups,” Jones said. “I feel like we could go up against anybody and have success.”
Numbers don’t always tell the story, but these do: Lawrence threw four interceptions, and then four touchdowns. His passer rating 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 final five to storm into the playoffs on the season’s final day.
“It kind of epitomizes our season,” Lawrence said. “We’re never out of it. When you believe and everybody believes, it’s cool what you can accomplish.”
After this miracle 31-30 victory, the Jaguars’ future now looks as bright as the eye-searing teal that dominates their stadium. Lawrence leveled up against the Chargers, establishing himself as one of the AFC’s must-watch quarterbacks of the future. He’s undefeated on Saturdays in high school, college and the pros, though none of those victories came as tough as this one. At age 23, he's the unquestioned leader of the Jaguars locker room, proving it in the most definitive way possible.
"When you see him not blinking and going out there and putting it all on the line," Kirk said, "it's easy to get behind a guy like that."
In the minutes after Riley Patterson’s game-winning field goal, as the delirious Jaguars streamed off the field and into the hallway beneath the stadium, team owner Shad Khan, wearing a sharp white sportcoat and black slacks, greeted and embraced players and coaches. Whoops and shouts filled the air, some wordless, some profane, all ecstatic. Linebacker Shaquille Quarterman carried an enormous Jaguar flag likely borrowed from a cheerleader.
“Do you believe in miracles?” someone shouted out, probably unaware that the man who’d made that classic call 43 years ago was a few floors above them, having just called their victory as well. This wasn’t a gold medal game, but it felt as good as any victory has in Jacksonville in a very long time.
“Typical us, huh?” Jones laughed. “We know how to throw a good party.”
“It’s easy to say it after, but you don’t win a game like that if you don’t believe in yourself,” Lawrence said. “Proud of this group, this city. Special night for a lot of people, and I’m just thankful for everybody that 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 overcome the loss of their starting quarterbacks and pull upsets on Sunday, Jacksonville will host Baltimore next week. Otherwise, the Jaguars will head to either Buffalo or Kansas City. For Jacksonville, every possible option is good.
Contact Jay Busbee at email@example.com or on Twitter at @jaybusbee.