JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – It’s unfamiliar territory for most Jaguars players. The bright glare of the NFL postseason and everything that comes along with it can disrupt the normal NFL flow.
Doug Pederson knows all about it.
He won a Super Bowl as a player with the Packers and as a head coach with the Eagles. Pederson said the spotlight the playoffs bring present unique challenges that coaching staffs have to address. There’s an element of wanting players to enjoy the moment while balancing it with taking a business approach to it all.
“For me, it’s about keeping everybody together, you know, at the hotel and the meetings and how we do things and handle things, but I also want the guys to enjoy these times, too,” Pederson said. “These are they don’t come around very often. And anytime you get a chance to play in the postseason. It’s a great accomplishment for your guys. So, I do want them to also enjoy these opportunities.”
For the Jaguars (10-8), it’s foreign ground as they head to Kansas City to face the Chiefs (14-3) in the AFC divisional round on Saturday at 4:30 p.m. There’s the national buzz around Trevor Lawrence and a red-hot defense, especially after last Saturday’s 31-30 stunner over the Chargers. Players say that there’s no need for coaches to explain what’s at stake. They know what’s on the line. As cliche as it sounds, keeping things as simplified as possible is the goal.
“Everybody I feel like is excited, ready to go out there and try to do everything we can to get a win,” said right tackle Jawaan Taylor. “It’s a big game, like you said, and I feel like we get a chance to go against them again. So, we just need to go out there and do everything we can to get a win.”
Pederson said that this season can be put into words like trust and belief.
The players learned to trust Pederson during training camp, which was held at Episcopal School of Jacksonville’s Knight Sports Complex this season. And the results were easy to see, both on and off the field. Players openly raved about Pederson’s style of coaching and the respect he showed them, a 180 from how Urban Meyer was viewed.
The Jaguars started 2-1, then played erratically in October. Pederson’s belief in a turnaround, even when they dropped all five games that month to fall to 2-6, was resolute.
“It’s not so much the scheme and the plays and all that kind of stuff, that was going to come. I think they had to trust me, as a new head coach, and the faster we could accomplish that goal, then these guys would do anything for you,” Pederson said. “So that was to me, the biggest thing and the fastest and quickest thing that I had to accomplish, and they also had to accomplish that at the same time.”
The players and coaching staff knew that they were better than their record. When the Jaguars reached their bye week following a 27-17 loss to the Chiefs in Week 10, it was then that Pederson drove home the point to players that their season was still in front of them.
Yes, even with a 3-7 record.
MORE JAGUARS COVERAGE
Just perfect | Trevor Lawrence is 37-0 in games played on Saturday
Playoff fever in the 904 | Send-off party Friday, watch party Saturday
Snow game? | Light snow in the forecast for Saturday’s game
Nonstop merch push | Local print shop working to keep up with demand
Jaguars back to London | NFL announces 5 international games in ‘23
The Jaguars have lost just once since Pederson laid out the prospect of an AFC South title, a 40-14 blowout loss to the Lions in Week 12. They’ve won six consecutive games entering Saturday’s showdown against the Chiefs. And how they’ve performed in the second half of the season, with every game a must-win, has been remarkable.
Three wins this season have come when they’ve trailed by 17 or more points. Jacksonville beat the Raiders (trailed 17-0, won 27-20), Cowboys (trailed 27-10, won 40-34 in OT) and then produced the epic comeback win over the Chargers. The Jaguars are 8.5-point underdogs, according to FanDuel.
“I’m just excited for the opportunity. But it’s really the same. You know, we take every game like it’s the biggest game of our careers,” said rookie linebacker Devin Lloyd. “And we always say it’s the biggest one because it’s the next one. So, same thing around here.”
While that win was historic and will go in the books as the biggest deficit overcome in franchise history, Pederson knows Jacksonville can’t lean on that comeback blueprint game after game in the playoffs.
Especially against Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium.
“I don’t necessarily want to be behind in football games as you know. But it’s good in a way that the guys, they never quit,” Pederson said. “They just kind of, I guess, store things up as the game goes and finally the switch goes on and you start playing football. But that’s obviously not the way we want to draw it up.”