JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Jaguars started on the wrong side of history and came out of it on the other.
Just like that, the storybook season continues with a playoff performance for the ages.
It was always — and continues to be — the Jaguars.
Trevor Lawrence erased the worst half of football in his life with one of the best, leading the Jaguars to a somehow-they-did-it and you-still-can’t-believe-it-happened, 31-30 comeback win over the Chargers on a chilly Saturday night at TIAA Bank Field.
Riley Patterson’s 36-yard field as time ran off the clock set off an electric celebration that put a series of exclamation points on a comeback from a 27-0 deficit.
The Jaguars had five turnovers and were dead in the water in the opening half. They roared back and delivered Doug Pederson one of the most stunning victories of his career, and one of the most unlikely victories in playoff history.
“I mean, it’s everything. That’s just what I told them at halftime, it’s kind of like our season,” Pederson said. “We’ve put ourselves in a hole at times, and we’ve worked ourselves out of it at times. Just to have the resiliency and the fight and the desire and the ability to continue to play, because it could have easily gone the other way, and that’s what I’m so proud of these guys for. Everything is on the line, and they go out and get the job done.”
Lawrence tossed four interceptions in the first half and countered that with four touchdowns and a clutch two-point conversion vault after that with 5 minutes, 30 seconds to play to get Jacksonville in position for a comeback that didn’t seem realistic. The defense forced a punt and Lawrence engineered a classic drive from his own 21 to set Patterson up for the dagger to win it.
It was the third-largest comeback in playoff history and sends the Jaguars into the divisional playoffs next. They’ll travel to face the top-seeded Chiefs next.
“Typical us,” said receiver Marvin Jones. “We know how to throw a good party.”
Added receiver Christian Kirk: “I told them we’re never doing that again.”
That the Jaguars were even sniffing the divisional round was unthinkable when the game was in the first half.
Lawrence threw four interceptions in the first two quarters — half of what he threw in the previous 17 games combined — that silenced the crowd of 70,250 just about immediately. That start was historically bad, but Lawrence’s finish managed to make that a footnote.
From a 27-0 deficit in the second quarter, Lawrence threw second-half touchdown passes to Zay Jones, Christian Kirk and to Marvin Jones, then added a two-point conversion leap over the pile to make it 30-28 with 5:30 to go. Lawrence, sensing that the impossible was within reach, spiked the ball down as hard as he’s ever done after a scoring play and the crowd went ballistic.
The Jaguars defense came up huge after that. Roy Robertson-Harris sacked Justin Herbert for a loss of 8. And Foye Oluokun stopped Joshua Kelly short on third down to force a punt. Lawrence got it back with 3:09 left at his own 21.
“I mean, the odds, I told the boys, I don’t like my odds but I love my chances,” Oluokun said. “As long as there’s a little probability of winning at all, we’re going to keep fighting. We saw the tables start turning, we had momentum, we kept that, we keep getting the ball back to the offense and they started rolling.”
Down the field Lawrence moved the Jaguars, hitting Kirk, Marvin Jones and Zay Jones with four passes to get into Los Angeles territory. A third-and-1 target to Kirk was off to set up a mark-or-break play. Fourth-and-1 at the Chargers 41 and too far for Patterson, Pederson called on Travis Etienne.
Instead of going up the middle and through the cluster, something the Chargers were planning for looking at their stuffed formation, Etienne broke around the right side and had an open field to work with. He was tackled after a gain of 20 and that set Patterson up for a makeable shot which he nailed.
Lawrence’s three first-quarter interceptions marked the first time in NFL playoff history that a quarterback was picked off three times in the first quarter, according to the Boston Globe.
His four first-half interceptions are a dubious feat accomplished just two other times in playoff history; in the 1978 Super Bowl by Denver’s Craig Morton against the Cowboys, and a 1983 game by Detroit’s Gary Danielson in a loss to the Niners. Lawrence finished 28 of 47 for 288 yards, four touchdowns and four interceptions.
“For myself, obviously yeah, definitely the worst half of my football life, of a lot of people’s football life, too,” Lawrence said. “Some type of history probably in that stat.”
He found a rhythm after that disastrous start, bringing Jacksonville to within 30-20 on a 39-yard touchdown to Zay Jones late in the third quarter. How he responded after his first 25 minutes of football was remarkable for a quarterback, let alone a second-year player.
Lawrence turned in the worst game he’s had at any level of football, throwing an interception on the second play of the game, another on Jacksonville’s next drive and another late in the opening quarter. Those led to 17 quick points for the Chargers and a lead that was nearly too steep to overcome.
“I played with one of the greatest quarterbacks ever in Brett Favre and there were times he didn’t have a great first half and came back in the second half and could light it up,” Pederson said.
“That’s what I love about Trevor and his demeanor and his aggressiveness and the ability to just forget and move on. But he’ll be the first one to tell you that it’s not about him, it’s the guys around him, too. [They] made plays, the protection was good, receivers were doing a nice job being where they needed to be. But from an individual standpoint, this is really a great performance by our quarterback.”
Lawrence got out of his funk before halftime, throwing a 9-yard touchdown to Evan Engram to give the Jaguars a faint pulse. He added that 39-yard strike to Zay Jones and a 6-yard pass to Marvin Jones in the third quarter that whittled the deficit to 30-20.
That started the thought process. Maybe, just maybe?
“Hopefully we play a little bit better next week. The defense, hopefully they play just like they did tonight. They did a great job. But offensively you can’t turn the ball over that many times and expect to win. We found a way tonight, but it’s probably not a good formula moving forward,” Lawrence said. “So, I know for me personally, it shouldn’t take that type of second half to go win the game. If you just play better in the first half and take care of the ball.”
The start drained the electricity from the stadium in the blink of an eye. After picks on Jacksonville’s first two drives and a punt after that, Lawrence was picked for a third time in the first quarter, and the second by Asante Samuel, that set up a 6-yard touchdown run by Austin Ekeler. By the time the opening quarter ended in a 17-0 deficit, Lawrence had completed four passes to his teammates and three to the Chargers.
No one expected the Jaguars to be in this position. Cleaning up the mess of Urban Meyer — who was hired exactly two years ago nearly to the hour — and years of struggles before that, it would have been ambitious to Jacksonville turning the corner in 2022.
But the Jaguars escaped a 2-6 start and won their final five games of the season to snatch an unexpected AFC South title.
That’s house money. And the Jaguars are still spending it.
MORE JAGUARS COVERAGE
Pregame photo gallery | Can you feel the energy from these pregame tailgate parties?
A comeback for the ages | Trevor Lawrence leads historic win over Chargers
Clowns to crowns | How the Jaguars went from worst to first
Who needs to sit down? | Not this fan, who was happy for standing-room only ticket
Cold weather doesn’t scare ‘em | Chilly temps don’t keep fans away
Hometown stars living a dream | Oakleaf, Creekside High stars enjoy the ride with Jaguars
Gameday live | Relive the game with News4JAX tweets
SnapJax gallery | Checking out some of your photos from Saturday
Playoff party | Fans show up in force for playoff game
Grateful recognition | A 2-year-old who is battling cancer was honored as Jaguar for the day
Our predictions | How’d we do picking the game?