All it took for the Jaguars to earn a playoff spot on Saturday was essentially the karmic reversal of the Myles Jack wasn’t downstairs Game from the 2017 AFC Championship Game. This time, Josh Allen’s scoop-and-score was the deciding game in a 20-16 win over the Titans to win the AFC South in prime time. It was a game that lived up to its murky bill, with all the flare-ups of a fireworks display for pets with sensitive ears.
There were two offensive touchdowns. No quarterback was rated over 100. Derrick Henry averaged less than four yards per carry but still ran the ball 30 times. Travis Etienne averaged 2.4 yards per carry and disappeared like a political tweet someone made in college.
For those reasons, one might be content to erase this one from memory and choose to mentally simulate a wildcard weekend where the Jaguars will host a playoff game, despite going 3-7 not too long ago were.
But we here at The MMQB Choose to stand by our attitude from a few weeks ago. The jaguars are dangerous. The jaguars are disruptors. The Jaguars will be a factor in the tournament. If you watched closely enough, Saturday proved it. See you all in the division round.
This potential is not only due to the superfluous details; that they are a team on a mission by the football gods to punish and ridicule every aspect of the Urban Meyer era at Duval. No one forgets that Meyer has had to defend himself against allegations ranging from kicking a player to being unclear about Aaron Donald. Certainly no one in the building takes that for granted, as they understood that Meyer’s film, best practices, and general life ethos all needed to be eradicated the way you gut bed bugs.
This conviction is not only due to the fact that the team is exceptionally young and fun. It’s not just because after every good game we can watch the team’s general manager Trent Baalke give Chief Football Strategy Officer Tony Khan a vigorous shake (and the owner’s son Shad) in the press box. It’s not just because their fanbase is wild and free. It’s not just because there’s something heartwarming about Doug Pederson, the man who gave Philadelphia its only Super Bowl before being ambushed with his pink slip a few years later and being the one who puts all the pieces together.
Let’s start with the obvious: Saturday wasn’t Trevor Lawrence’s best game, and the Jaguars beat one of the best trained teams in football anyway. While we won’t be as critical of Lawrence as Troy Aikman, who treated the sophomore quarterback like a spell-bee parent in the dressing room, Lawrence clearly missed a touchdown throw, high reverse and another potential short-armed touchdown pass thanks to something inside Printed by Jeffery Simmons.
From Thanksgiving to Saturday’s Titans game, Lawrence had completed almost 70% of his passes for 1,567 yards, 11 touchdowns and two interceptions. Against the Titans, he still completed nearly 2% of his passes above expectations, according to the NFL’s NextGen stats. His last month-and-a-half isn’t exactly a heater by modern quarterback standards, but it’s a library of data telling enough to make us think he’d be better off a much softer Chargers defense a week from now.
The Jaguars managed to put on enough offense to close a 10-point deficit, which can often feel like a death sentence against a team that uses Henry and a mobile quarterback. They also managed to slow down Henry, whom the Titans ran almost exclusively as a pacemaker on first downs in the second half to make life easier for Josh Dobbs. In just four of those first-down carries, Henry logged five yards or more.
Defensively, they recorded 13 quarterback hits, giving them 41 total in their last four games, dating back to when they stunned the Cowboys to even legitimize that run.
All of this at least aligns nicely with a possible matchup with the Chargers, which the Jaguars will most likely face next weekend (although it could also be the Ravens). Los Angeles is another team dependent on running success and vulnerable when their quarterback gets knocked over. The last time Lawrence faced a Brandon Staley defense, he went 28 of 39 for 262 yards and three touchdowns in a 38-10 Week 3 win.
Finally, while so much of Jacksonville’s late-season run appears to have been a compilation of plays like that game-winning defensive touchdown, one has to accept that when it’s so reproducible, it can no longer be a fluke. In a near-endless loop on Sunday, we were told that Pederson predicted that very moment in a dejected Kansas City locker room just nine weeks ago. Obviously he’s seen everything we see now, both the outside and the tangible.