BY SCOTT MORGANROTH
What a difference a year makes!
On January 9, 2021, the Jacksonville Jaguars defeated the Indianapolis Colts 26-11 at TIAA Bank Field and knocked their division rivals out of the playoff picture, which also signaled the end of their signal caller Carson Wentz.
The Jaguars finished last in the AFC South with a 3-14 record, but still managed the first overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft as the Detroit Lions defeated the Green Bay Packers to finish 3-13-1.
Jacksonville proceeded to take Georgia’s Travon Walker.
But the biggest off-season pickup for Jacksonville was the hiring of Head Coach Doug Pederson!
During the hiring process, the Jags interviewed former QB Byron Leftwich but this never came to fruition because the former signal caller didn’t want to work with GM Trent Baalke.
If you want to talk about a situation that was a blessing in disguise, this was it!
All Pederson did was hire a strong coaching staff and told franchise QB Trevor Lawrence to forget the disastrous season he endured under former Coach Urban Meyer. It was time to start all over and learn a new playbook and start from scratch.
Pederson has won two Super Bowls, one as a player for the Green Bay Packers and another as a head coach for the Philadelphia Eagles.
More franchise QB’s are ruined due to instability with the head coach and offensive coordinator.
During many of my shows throughout the 2022 Season, I’ve been consistent hammering Leftwich for not taking this job and said there is a stature to be built for Pederson if he has sustained success especially if the team reaches the Super Bowl, let a lone wins a championship.
I still stand by that statement!
The Jaguars are one of four teams that haven’t reached the big game.
The Detroit Lions, Cleveland Browns and the Houston Texans are the others.
Things didn’t start out well for the Jaguars as they started the season 3-7.
But in Week 11, the team had a bye week.
On Sunday, November 27, Jacksonville defeated the Baltimore Ravens at TIAA Bank Field 28-27.
Jacksonville didn’t fare well on December 4, 2022 as it traveled to Detroit and the Lions devoured them 40-14 and the team dropped to 4-8.
This would be the last time the Jaguars would lose a game in 2022 as the Cats proceeded to win four-straight games.
They stunned the Tennessee Titans in Nashville on December 11, 2022, 36-22 to improve to 5-8.
On December 18, 2022, I took the five hour trek up to Jacksonville and watched the Jaguars defeat the Dallas Cowboys 40-34 in overtime.
During this game, the Jaguars attendance was 69,050 and the stadium was electric. The Dallas Cowboys traveled well and I almost felt like I was in Texas.
Finding a hotel was a huge challenge and those that were available were quite costly. We stayed in nearby St.Augustine.
They Cowboys fans were loud as Dallas jumped out to a 27-10 lead and as I went downstairs for lunch, I heard FOX’s Michael Strahan comment that the Jaguars would have to find a way to get back into this game.
What he would see later was these Jaguars don’t quit!
Jacksonville went on to score 21 consecutive points to take a 31-27 lead in the fourth quarter.
But Cowboys QB Dak Prescott and the Cowboys countered with a 13-play drive that included three third point conversions. Running back Ezekiel Elliott ran for 58 yards and a score for Dallas, joining Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith as the only backs in franchise history with rushing touchdowns in seven straight games.
This game would end with a Rayshawn Jenkins interception of Prescott’s bobbled pass and he returned it 52-yards for the game winning touchdown that gave the Jaguars an improbable 40-34 OT win.
The Cowboys five-game winning streak was snapped and Dallas has never won a game at TIAA Bank Field dropping to 0-2.
This is the only NFL venue the Cowboys have never won in.
Leading the way for Jacksonville, Lawrence was 27-42 for 318 yards and four touchdowns.
Running back Travis Etienne had 19 carries for 103 yards.
Zay Jones led the Jaguars in receiving with six receptions for 109 yards and three touchdowns.
Offensively, Jacksonville out gained Dallas in total yards, 503-397 despite the Cowboys leading time of possession 35:26-27:41.
Prescott threw two interceptions and was sacked three times.
The Jaguars played the contest without Travon Walker.
I asked Lawrence about him being inactive mentioning the team being behind by double digits that is the team used to overcoming adversity?
“Yeah, today is his birthday, actually. I don’t know if you guys knew that. So I saw him in the training room and he’s been trying to go all week. Just doing everything he can to play because he wants to be out there, and (I) saw him there not suiting up so I knew he wasn’t going to play.
“I saw him today. I was like, hey, we got you. We’re going to get this one for you. That was what I told him. Saw him after the game and gave him a hug. I was like, I told you. That’s how this team is. It’s awesome.”
I asked Coach Pederson a pair of questions but the one that stands out was, Do you want to get to a point where the Jacksonville Jaguars are no longer a trap game, that the people are going to start taking your program a lot more seriously?
“Well, I don’t get into a lot of that as much as I want our team to understand that we need to be playing meaningful football games in December and January, and we’ve put ourselves in that position. So I’m proud of the guys for doing that.
“Our season could have gone sideways three, four weeks ago, and the guys weren’t going to let that happen. I don’t get caught up in all the storylines and all that, the shoulda-coulda-wouldas. It’s a matter of those guys in the dressing room believing in themselves and getting the job done.”
Four days later, the Jaguars would continue to win and defeated the New York Jets 19-3 on a rainy night in the Meadowlands on December 22, 2022.
This game was billed at the battle of the top two draft choices in the 2021 NFL Draft, Lawrence vs Zach Wilson.
By the end of the night, Wilson was benched and Jacksonville raised its record to 7-8 and let a Nationally Televised Audience know to take them seriously.
Jacksonville started the New Year the same way it ended the old one, with a win but this time, the Jags barely cracked a sweat by demolishing the Texans in Houston with a 31-3 triumph.
The team improved to 8-8 and the NFL decided to flex the Week 18 Finale with the Tennessee Titans to 8:15 PM on Saturday Night on ABC.
During the beginning of the week, I emailed David Wolfe and told him that the Dallas Cowboys losing to the Jaguars was one of the best wins I’ve ever seen.
I told him that I’m ready for Tennessee and he told me that I hope the Titans Game on Saturday is the best game you’re going to see and inserted a smile emoji as his way of saying, come on up, you’re approved.
So the stage is set, the Jaguars now can win the AFC South Division as it hosts the Titans, 7-9, in prime time!
Who would have imagined this a year ago as Owner Shad Khan and Baalke had to deal with a peril but now they have a chance to host a playoff game?
What a difference a culture change will do and Pederson looks like a genius but most of all, unlike a lot of highly drafted QB’s, Lawrence won’t be classified as a bust!
Scott Morganroth can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and you can follow him on Twitter @TribuneSouth.
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