Following a methodical, efficient 19-3 victory over the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium on Thursday night, quarterback Trevor Lawrence arrived for his postgame press conference wearing a Christmas sweater.
It was given to Lawrence by Jaguars linebacker Foye Oluokun as part of his “Team Ugly Gang” holiday collection.
The sweater is priced at $55. Of course, that pales in comparison to the extravagant gift the Jets gave the Jaguars two years ago, when they foolishly rallied to defeat the Los Angeles Rams 23-20 just before Christmas, giving them access to Lawrence as the No. 1 overall draught pick.
What a gift to Jacksonville, and one that could haunt the Jets for the next 10-15 years.
If Lawrence’s play over the previous six weeks hadn’t made it clear how that two-year-old Rams’ victory could dramatically alter the course of both franchises, the reality hit the Jets with a resounding thud in front of a prime time national television audience and 70,043 booing fans.
Follow each game: NFL Scores and Schedules Up to Date
Lawrence reaffirmed his status as a top-ten NFL quarterback in windy, rainy conditions, putting up respectable numbers (20 of 31, 229 yards, 1 rushing touchdown) and making enough plays with his arm and legs to ensure his team controlled the game throughout.
With Lawrence playing like a Pro Bowl quarterback, the Jaguars (7-8) are now two wins away — against the Houston Texans and the first-place Tennessee Titans (7-7) — from capturing the AFC South title, which seemed improbable only three weeks ago.
“I thought he did a nice job of controlling and managing what we asked him to do for the most part,” Jaguars coach Doug Pederson said of Lawrence. “The weather was obviously a challenge with the wind and the rain, but I thought he played tough again, played physical. It was great to see our quarterback perform.”
After Lawrence, the Jets’ No. 2 pick in the 2021 draught, Zach Wilson, is on the verge of becoming a bust.
He was benched for a no-name, former CFL quarterback, Chris Streveler, an elevated practice-squad player who had thrown only 25 NFL passes in two seasons with the Arizona Cardinals.
Wilson, who was only starting because the quarterback who took his place, Mike White, had a rib injury, looked out of his league far too often. Though under duress from the Jaguars’ blitzing, he also missed open receivers, whether air-mailing a pass way over Corey Davis’ head or leaving a deep ball way short.
Jets fans, who had already turned on Wilson and his 54.9 percent accuracy this season, booed him and the offence throughout the game.
On a night when the wind chill factor was 38 degrees, the difference in quarterback play reminded the Jaguars how fortunate they are to have Lawrence continue to live up to all of his pre-draft hype.
Peaking at the appropriate time
The Jaguars have a three-game winning streak in December for only the second time in 15 years, sending a clear message that they should now be considered the division favourite more than the reeling Titans.
According to the oddsmakers, this game against the Jets on the road in a tough environment was a toss-up. But it was clear that the Jets’ offence had no answers when Lawrence led the Jaguars on a 16-play, 96-yard touchdown drive for a 10-3 lead early in the second quarter, never facing a third down until he scored on a quarterback sneak.
Lawrence and his two most effective wingmen, tight end Evan Engram (7 catches, 113 yards) and tailback Travis Etienne, were unfazed by the inclement weather (112 scrimmage yards). The Jaguars won with relative ease, confirming their status as one of the NFL’s most dangerous teams as the season comes to a close.
“It just shows what we’re capable of offensively,” Pederson said of the 96-yard touchdown drive. “I just think it gives the guys confidence throughout the game that they can build on.”
This was far from a fashion show, but it was the Jaguars’ most complete game since dominating the Indianapolis Colts and Los Angeles Chargers in back-to-back weeks three months ago.
The Jaguars defence, which was missing injured starters Travon Walker and Foley Fatukasi, had eight pass breakups and eight tackles for loss, including three sacks, by eight different players. Wilson was mercifully benched for Streveler after the Jets had only three first downs in seven possessions.
“What a great feeling it is to just do what we said we would do,” outside linebacker Josh Allen said. “Now we just have to finish these last two [games]. As a result, the level of detail and urgency remains high.”
It’s been a complete 180-degree turn for the Jaguars, who went 0-5 in October and are now brimming with confidence from every corner of the locker room.
“Every game is a must-win for us, and that’s how we’re approaching it, and we understand and love it,” Lawrence said. “That’s the position we put ourselves in, for better or worse. We like where we are and the momentum we have, but good teams win these games because they have to. Just to see how the team has grown and how we’ve remained united.
“I think the staff and especially coach Pederson has had belief in us, even when maybe we didn’t in the beginning. Things were crazy, and I think his confidence in us made us realise we had something special here, and we needed to figure out what we wanted to do before it was too late. We made changes and began to play our best ball at the right time.”
Teamwork is essential.
The Jaguars, who had no players named to the Pro Bowl, have clearly evolved into a team greater than the sum of their parts.
Defeating the Jets at MetLife Stadium for the first time since 2009 was another example of how Pederson, who should be considered for Coach of the Year if the Jaguars win the AFC South, has nurtured this team.
His play-calling, which includes a lot of pre-snap motion and keeps opponents guessing a lot more, appeared to befuddle and make the Jets’ No. 3-ranked defence more tentative.
The Jaguars’ complementary football was textbook. When the defence held the Jets to a field goal after Lawrence’s early fumble gave them the ball 16 yards from the end zone, both Jaguars units seize and maintain the momentum for the rest of the game.
Lawrence made certain that one turnover did not turn into five, as he did in difficult conditions at Philadelphia in Week 4. Pederson took advantage of his receivers’ and Etienne’s run-and-catch abilities, allowing Lawrence to do more damage with short passes.
“It’s just explosive plays on layups, and the guys have done a great job of that this year,” Lawrence explained. “Just getting the ball in space and our yards after catch have been really good and just guys in the perimeter blocking in the run game, just optimises what the team’s about.
“Everybody’s unselfish, we want to win, and no one really cares about who gets the credit, who gets the yards, who gets whatever. It’s simply a matter of doing whatever it takes to win.”
Surprisingly, the Jaguars are in prime position to compete for a division title and the No. 4 AFC seed. A win at Houston next week, or the Titans losing just one of their next two games against the Texans and Dallas Cowboys, guarantees a winner-take-all matchup with Tennessee for the AFC South title.
Whatever negative perceptions there were about the Jaguars a month ago, or for the majority of the last decade, are gradually fading. This is a cohesive team that benefits from one another’s success and comes together at the perfect time.
The Jaguars were given access to Trevor Lawrence, the best Christmas gift the Jets now wish they hadn’t given up.