JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Jaguars will play in primetime on Thursday night, headlined by the first two quarterbacks taken in the 2021 draft.
It’s Trevor Lawrence against Zach Wilson in a must-win game for both the Jaguars and the Jets. Why hasn’t that matchup gotten more billing heading into the 8:15 p.m. showdown?
The draft credentials alone made it seem like a Lawrence-Wilson showdown could happen for years to come in the playoffs, but it hasn’t quite shaken out that way.
While Lawrence has clicked this season for the surprising Jaguars (6-8) and grown into the franchise quarterback the team has lacked, Wilson has been slow to acclimate to the NFL.
He lost his starting job for the contending Jets (7-7) after passing for a career-low 77 yards following a Week 8 loss to the Patriots. New York Robert Saleh has tried to curb the blowback to Wilson’s demotion by saying that the quarterback is still in the franchise’s future plans.
Wilson has been pressed back into action due to an injury to starter Mike White and will try to lead the Jets to a much-needed victory in a must-win game for both. Lawrence said he got to know Wilson during the pre-draft process and has kept in touch with him, but that doesn’t mean he views Thursday’s game as a Trevor against Zach showdown.
“You look at where we’re at in our season, that’s the feeling every week and that’s how we all feel here, no matter who we’re playing, no matter who the other quarterback is. It just has to be, it’s the way these games are down the stretch,” Lawrence said.
“That’s the mindset no matter what. I think that’s one thing that you can’t do as a quarterback, I’m not playing against Zach, I’m playing against the Jets defense. It’s annoying when people always compare all that because it’s not what it’s about. It’s not how the game should be played.”
Those quarterbacks will always be linked, but the Jaguars likely don’t care who they face as long as they can continue their late season surge. Jacksonville is in control of its playoff destiny, something that didn’t seem realistic after a 2-6 start. But the Jaguars have won four of their last six games, including wins over the Ravens, Titans and Cowboys, to push themselves into the playoff conversation. They may still qualify for the postseason even with a loss, but they’d be far more reliant on other scenarios breaking their way. The easiest path to the AFC South title is winning out.
Doug Pederson knows that there’s buzz about the playoffs, but he’s only worried about the Jets right now.
“The leadership in the locker room is going to take over, you got three games left on your schedule. Everything is still right in front of us, and we just have to embrace that,” Pederson said. “The players got to lean on each other, keep encouraging each other. We’re in that home stretch of the season and are in situations that you want to be in. You want to be in those meaningful games where there’s a little sense of urgency and go see what happens.”
Lawrence’s play since a loss to the Broncos in London has given the Jaguars and infusion of confidence for this year and beyond. He no longer looks overmatched in late game situations. In comeback wins over the Ravens and Cowboys, Lawrence was sensational in the second halves.
The Jaguars are 4-2 since the Denver game, with Lawrence scorching opponents. He’s 157 for 223 passing for 1,680 yards, 14 touchdowns and just one interception. Lawrence said that his performance against the Broncos that day — he threw a costly end zone interception — triggered a big change in his play.
“My mindset has shifted a lot and I’d say I think I have a lot of confidence back and I was able to bring myself back to reality and kind of flush everything that’s happened, use it, obviously you learn from all that stuff, but really do not allow one play or a few plays or weeks prior to effect the next week,” Lawrence said. “I think that’s been the thing I’ve been able to really grow and get better at.”