One down, two very, very big ones to go.
The Jaguars handled business in miserable conditions against the Jets on Thursday night, grinding out a 19-3 win that showcased just how far apart the teams who picked Nos. 1-2 in last year’s draft are.
Trevor Lawrence had a rushing touchdown and led four drives that led to Riley Patterson field goals to keep Jacksonville right on the Titans’ heels in the race for the AFC South title. While Lawrence and the offense did enough to move the ball and put points on the board against a tough New York defense, it was Jacksonville’s defense that took control.
The Jaguars (7-8) harrassed Zach Wilson and then put the clamps down on his replacement, Chris Streveler, to barrel into the final stretch as one of the league’s best stories. Jacksonville held the Jets to just 10 first downs and 227 yards.
The Jaguars visit the Texans in Week 17 and then wraps things up at home against Tennessee on Jan. 8. Win those and they’re in the NFL playoffs.
As Lawrence and coach Doug Pederson have repeated, they can’t win the Texans and Titans games before they got by the Jets, which they did to stretch their winning streak to three games, handling the primetime spotlight and increasing pressure in their push for the AFC South title.
The moment wasn’t too big for Pederson’s young team against the fading Jets (7-8), who never found a rhythm under embattled quarterback Wilson and wound up pulling him for practice squad callup Streveler in the third quarter.
Lawrence (20 of 31, 229 yards passing) was efficient and moved the ball, spreading it out to eight different pass catchers, largely playing a clock-eating game and leaning on his defense. When Lawrence wasn’t dialing up passes, he mixed things up with his legs. Five of Lawrence’s carries resulted in first downs. He rushed for 51 yards on seven carries.
His best drive of the game came across the first and second quarters and in the swirling, driving rain. Lawrence marched the Jaguars 96 yards and capped it with a 1-yard leap over the pile for a 10-3 Jacksonville lead four and a half minutes in to the second quarter. It wouldn’t come close to letting New York back in the game.
The defense ensured that Wilson, the player selected after the Jaguars took Lawrence No. 1 overall in the 2021 draft, would have yet another miserable night in a career full of them.
Wilson, pressed into a start after an injury to Mike White, was booed heartily on nearly every incomplete pass.
Wilson has struggled in the NFL, but the Jaguars defense made his night miserable. The pass rush kept Wilson moving around the pocket and uncomfortable from open to close. New York’s best starting field position of the game came after it recovered a Lawrence fumble at the Jacksonville 16. Andre Cisco had the hit of the night, sacking Wilson for a loss of 8 and forcing the Jets to settle for a field goal. That was New York’s deepest drive of the game.
Trailing 16-3, the Jets pulled him for Streveler late in the third quarter but that didn’t do much for the Jets.
That’s the type of night it was for the New York offense. And it was another big step for Mike Caldwell’s defense after a string of woeful performances in midseason. Jacksonville limited the Jets to just 66 yards of offense in the opening half and never relented. Wilson passed for 92 yards on a 9-of-18 night with an interception to Devin Lloyd at the end of the first half.
Streveler led the Jets to the Jaguars 13 early in the final quarter but turned it over on downs. And Foye Oluokun forced a Garrett Wilson fumble on the following drive that Tre Herndon recovered. Jacksonville turned that into a 37-yard field goal by Patterson, his fourth of the game.
Must-win situations are new territory for the Jaguars. They started 2-6 with all six of those losses by eight points or less. The knock on Jacksonville then was that it couldn’t close out games.
They’ve found out how to do that since.