JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Jaguars saved their best for last.
The most disappointing season in franchise history wrapped up with Jacksonville’s best all-around performance of the season, a stunning, wire-to-wire 26-11 win over the Colts on Sunday at TIAA Bank Field.
It ended an eight-game losing streak and kept Indianapolis winless in Jacksonville since 2014. The Colts (9-8) needed only to beat the Jaguars to reach the playoffs and entered as a 15-point favorite, but were bullied and knocked around from open to close and missed the postseason.
It wasn’t even a costly win from a draft perspective. With the Lions upsetting the Packers, 37-30, the Jaguars clinched the No. 1 pick in the draft for the second consecutive year.
For a win-starved fanbase of a team that came into the finale with a clown-themed subplot and chants to fire general manager Trent Baalke, it was a jolt of excitement. No one expected a performance like this.
Trevor Lawrence was electric.
The offense was fast-paced and effective.
The defense was punishing and relentless.
It smothered the NFL’s leading rusher Jonathan Taylor, racked up six sacks and stuffed the Colts twice on fourth downs, including at the 1 early in the fourth quarter. The Colts managed their lone touchdown with 4 minutes, 25 seconds to play when the game was already well out of reach.
Where had that tenacity and efficiency been all season long?
“If you walk down the hallway, I think you can hear it. The guys were ecstatic. They’re all excited. They can go play a few more games, just because of what happened today. Anytime you win, anytime you play well, it gives you extra confidence, gives you that boost,” said interim coach Darrell Bevell. “We just were never able to get that momentum going this year, but again, just hats off to those guys today for the effort, for the passion, for everything that they showed and how hard they played against a really good football team that had a chance to get in the playoffs.”
It took 17 games for the Jaguars to put together a performance like that, but it came at the right time. Instead of lugging another long losing streak into a new league year, the Jaguars at least have something positive to build off of.
Jacksonville (3-14) goes into the offseason facing a list of franchise-altering decisions. For starters, who will be the team’s next head coach after the disastrous and embarrassing tenure of Urban Meyer?
The Jaguars have been interviewing candidates the past two weeks, a list that includes Todd Bowles, Jim Caldwell, Kellen Moore, Byron Leftwich and Doug Pederson. And will owner Shad Khan retain Baalke? When news surfaced late last month that Khan planned to hold on to Baalke, fans staged an online revolt that led to a clown campaign that peaked with red noses and clown outfits at Sunday’s game.
For one afternoon though, Jacksonville’s future looked bright.
It started with Lawrence, the No. 1 overall pick in last year’s draft who was expected to lead the franchise revival. Instead, his rookie season had been disappointing, highlighted by a league-high 17 interceptions and stretches of no-touchdown games.
Lawrence had arguably his best drive of the season on the opening possession of the game, marching the Jaguars 75 yards in 12 plays and hitting Laquon Treadwell on a 2-yard scoring pass. Lawrence hit all eight of his passes on the drive.
Lawrence completed his first 12 pass attempts. His first incompletion was a perfect arcing sideline throw to Treadwell that was jarred loose when the receiver hit the ground.
“You don’t have regrets, but you do have that feeling of just, man, we could have been doing this all season. It’s disappointing to look back and think that, especially some of the close games we lost, and then just games where we didn’t play well, but just to think that that’s who we are, that’s what we can do, but you’re not that unless you do it week in and week out,” Lawrence said.
“But honestly, more so than that, just the confidence that this builds going forward, that’s a good football team that we just beat and really dominated the game and (I’m) just really proud of our guys. Everybody was locked in.”
Lawrence kept that precision throughout the game, although the Jaguars struggled to finish off drives with touchdowns. It had to settle for two short field goals from Matthew Wright in two other red zone trips, 20- and 22-yard kicks.
Lawrence’s second touchdown pass was a thing of beauty. Stuck on the 3 and facing another third down, Lawrence pulled down a high snap and scrambled backwards. He threw it high and long, with Jones going up in the back corner of the end zone and bringing it in. It was as good of an offensive play as Jacksonville has made all season.
Lawrence finished 23 of 32 for 223 yards and two touchdowns.
“I’m probably using the word proud too much, but I was just really proud of all the guys involved in this very difficult year,” Bevell said. “A lot of different circumstances, and for these guys to be able to stay locked in, and I think it showed today how important it was, how locked in they were.”
Wright’s fourth field goal of the game, a 31-yarder midway through the fourth quarter made it 26-3 Jacksonville. That point total was the highest of the season.
The defense was superb. It shut down MVP candidate Taylor and made the pocket a miserable place for Wentz. Taylor had 77 yards on 15 carries.
“Never expect to be sitting here, you know, having this moment right now, not like this,” said Colts coach Frank Reich.
Josh Allen had two of Jacksonville’s six sacks. Damien Wilson had a sack, an interception and forced a fumble. Adam Gotsis, who had a sack, said it was bittersweet because it was a glimpse of what potential the Jaguars had this season.
“Yeah, it’s a tough one, man, because you’re obviously elated for the game that you just had,” he said. “But it’s also a disappointment for what could have been this year if we’d just executed a bit better in some situations throughout the season.”