Perhaps sometime in the late 2040s or early 2050s, if Trevor Lawrence is on a Canton stage delivering his Hall of Fame acceptance speech, this will be remembered as his first grandiose signature NFL moment.
What Lawrence did on the night of Jan. 14, 2023 at TIAA Bank Field, in his playoff debut opposite another young gunslinger in the Los Angeles Chargers’ Justin Herbert, was a legacy thing.
This won’t ever be forgotten, if for no other reason than just the sheer improbability of it all.
Just before halftime of the Jaguars’ first postseason game in five years, TIAA Bank Field felt like a morgue. After all, most teams are pretty much dead after committing five turnovers and trailing 27-0.
Yet, 10 minutes after the clock expired, when Riley Patterson’s 36-yard field goal completed a stunning 31-30 AFC wild-card comeback victory, hundreds of delirious fans outside the west side of the stadium were loudly chanting in unison, “Let’s go Jaguars! Let’s go Jaguars!”
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How could this possibly happen? Who saw such a wild finish and historic rally coming?
Well, everybody wearing black and teal inside the Jaguars’ locker knew enough not to dismiss it as a possibility.
Not with someone like Trevor, the 23-year-old with maturity beyond his years, operating with that Joe Cool persona and who never seems to get rattled no matter how dire the circumstances.
‘That’s a special man‘
Lawrence had thrown four first-half interceptions, completing more passes at one point to Chargers cornerback Asante Samuel, Jr. (three) than any of his own receivers.
He candidly referred to those opening 30 minutes as “definitely the worst half of my football life.”
Yet somehow, when those dark hours come and the Jaguars face a climb as steep as Everest, they have an uncanny knack for flipping a switch.
Thanks, in large part, to No. 16 turning into Superman in the nick of time.
All at this same venue, Lawrence has led them back from 17 points down against the Las Vegas Raiders and Dallas Cowboys, a 9-point deficit in the fourth quarter against the Baltimore Ravens, then beat the Tennessee Titans last week to win the AFC South after trailing 10-0.
But this comeback was something else, the stuff of legend. It was the kind of performance that gets quarterbacks on Wheaties boxes and entices major brands to seek them out as pitchmen.
It’s not like Lawrence is Tom Brady, who had four Super Bowl rings in his collection and 16 years of NFL experience to draw on when he orchestrated that comeback from a 28-3 deficit against the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl LI.
Yet Lawrence managed to excavate the Jaguars from a 27-point hole, much of it his doing, by not veering from his trademark even-keeled demeanor that never ceases to impress teammates.
“Once he finds his rhythm, I wouldn’t have nobody else,” said receiver Marvin Jones. “I’ve never seen a quarterback come back from throwing four picks. But he’s different. The dude never wavers. He doesn’t care what happens, it’s all about the next play.”
Zay Jones, the recipient of a 39-yard touchdown pass off a Lawrence audible to cut the Chargers’ lead to 30-20, held nothing back in praising his quarterback.
“From playing football, watching football, I know a lot of quarterbacks that would fold in that situation that he went through,” said Jones. “That’s tough, for anybody at any level. For him to be as poised and composed as he was, it showed another side of who we have on this team.”
After a slight pause, Jones then pointed at Lawrence as he was talking to backup QB C.J. Beathard near his locker, adding: “That guy right there, standing right there, that’s a special man. I’m proud to be part of a team that he’s on, and I’m glad that 16 is leading us.”
Jaguars’ offense goes off
How bleak was it? Well, a lot of fans among the sellout crowd of 70,250 had left the stadium when it was 27-0, then frantically made their way back in after Lawrence’s 9-yard TD pass to Evan Engram shortly before halftime provided a glimmer of hope.
But since the Jaguars made a habit of overcoming big deficits in the second half of the season, there was no sense of doom permeating the sidelines. And certainly not on the quarterback who started out 4 of 16 with four interceptions.
“That’s the thing, just the belief in this team,” said Lawrence. “It’s really cool to see what can happen when everybody believes. I wouldn’t be able to do what I did today and what the offense was able to do in the second half to bounce back, also the defense, if we didn’t believe in one another.
“I threw four picks in the first half, and those guys beside me on offense and the guys on the other side of the ball didn’t ever lose faith in me, and that’s one thing that makes it easier, when you know you’ve got guys that believe in you, no matter what the circumstances are.”
The circumstances were at DEFCON 1 level late in the second quarter. That’s when a JK Scott punt went off the helmet at the Jaguars’ 20 of an unsuspecting Chris Claybrooks, who was running back to get himself in position to block for returner Jamal Agnew.
When the loose ball caromed all the way back to the Jaguars’ 6 and Amen Ogbongbemiga recovered for a fifth turnover, you just felt it wasn’t going to be the home team’s night.
The season appeared on the brink of expiration. An air of resignation hung over every part of TIAA Bank Field except on the Jaguars’ sideline.
But a stout defensive front led by Roy Robertson-Harris, Josh Allen and Foye Oluokun, which had to deal with terrible field position because of the turnovers, scored an important victory. It held the Chargers to a field goal, preventing the lead from ballooning to 31 points.
When Lawrence got the Jaguars on the board to make it 27-7 at halftime, an offense capable of explosive surges became unstoppable in the second half.
The Jaguars went touchdown, touchdown, touchdown, touchdown and game-winning field goal on their last five possessions.
The Chargers could never regain the momentum. Their defense was powerless to fend off the Trevor turbo-charge, so much so that frustrated edge rusher Joey Bosa picked up two unsportsmanlike conduct flags, though he was mysteriously not ejected from the game.
It’s usually a multitude of plays that ends up winning a game of this magnitude, but if there was just one to select bigger than any other, that came with 1:28 remaining.
The Jaguars found themselves facing a fourth-and-less-than-1 at the L.A. 41. It was a textbook quarterback sneak situation, which is exactly what the Jaguars appeared ready to do.
Only head coach and play-caller Doug Pederson didn’t like the way the Chargers were stacking the line, selling out to stop just that.
So he called timeout as the Jaguars, in Pederson’s words, “reloaded, regrouped, put our heads together, came up with that call.”
They hit a reset button that might well have saved the season. Instead of a Lawrence sneak, he handed the ball off to speedy running back Travis Etienne to get to the edge. He beat the defense there and outran Samuel down the right sideline for a 26-yard gain to the Chargers’ 16.
“Just a great effort by Travis to obviously hit an off tackle there and get the first down and more,” said Pederson.
Lawrence acknowledged he was “kind of mad” about the play-call because he thought a QB sneak would work, but his Clemson teammate delivered something much better.
“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,” said Lawrence. “They set the edge and Travis was rolling.”
Two plays later, Patterson’s kick went through inside the right upright. You would have thought an earthquake had hit ‘The Bank,’ the noise of approval was so deafening.
How far can Jaguars go?
This historic comeback, the third-largest deficit overcome in NFL playoff history, was nothing really new to Pederson. He saw a Hall of Fame quarterback performing similar magic during his playing days with the Green Bay Packers in the 1990s and early 2000s.
“I played with one of the greatest quarterbacks ever in [the Packers’] 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,” said Pederson.
“That’s what I love about Trevor and his demeanor and his aggressiveness and the ability to just forget and move on.”
But what made the Jaguars’ fourth victory in five postseason home games so mind-boggling is they won despite a minus-5 turnover ratio.
Unlike those four fumbles he had against the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 4, Lawrence defied the odds this time as the Jaguars won their fifth one-score game. In October alone, they went 0-5 with losses by 8, 7, 7, 6 and 4 points.
But those low moments galvanized the Jaguars, to the point where no form of adversity for the rest of the AFC playoffs is likely to faze them.
“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,” Lawrence said. “I just had to keep my confidence.”
Let this be a forewarning to the Kansas City Chiefs, Buffalo Bills, Cincinnati Bengals and whoever else thinks they can hoist a Super Bowl trophy.
Trevor Lawrence and the Cardiac Cats are for real, and they’re living to play another day.
Gfrenette@jacksonville.com: (904) 359-4540