Last Place to Playoffs: Jaguars Are Your Turnaround Team of the NFL
|Posted on January 7, 2023 at 11:15 PM|
Article by Dan Tortora
The Jacksonville Jaguars have been the keepers of the worst record in the entire National Football League (NFL) for the last two seasons coming into their 2022-23 campaign.
This did allow them the opportunity to draft quarterback Trevor Lawrence in the 2021 NFL Draft and linebacker Travon Walker in the 2022 NFL Draft, both of whom have become starters on the squad.
But it also presented the feeling that the franchise that was less than a touchdown away from advancing to their first-ever Super Bowl, when they lost 24-20 on the road to the New England Patriots in the 2017-18 season, somehow was instead a distant dream, a blip on the radar of a decade where the word postseason was not in the Jaguars' dictionary.
A four-year hiatus from the NFL Playoffs and ending 32nd of 32 franchises for the 2020-21 and 2021-22 seasons gave rise to the notion that Jacksonville was a long ways away from extending their season past 17 games.
Then, 2022-23 happened...
However, it was not always pretty, with the Jaguars losing five in a row after their 2-1 start.
They would end this losing streak with another 2-1 finish in the following three games and most recently win four of their last five games, including four in a row coming into this match-up with AFC South foe, the Tennessee Titans.
Once they defeated the Dallas Cowboys 40-34 with a pick-six in overtime by strong safety Rayshawn Jenkins, Jacksonville controlled their own destiny. If they won their last three games of the regular season, then it did not matter what the Titans did.
The Jaguars took care of their last two games, with road wins versus the New York Jets (13-3) and Houston Texans (31-3), giving them an 8-8 overall record coming into this contest with the Titans.
Tennessee came into this game far differently, losing their last six games following winning seven of eight games after an 0-2 start. One of those losses in their last six contests was to Jacksonville, 36-22 in Tennessee, giving Jacksonville the advantage over them head-to-head as they kicked off into their second bout this season, this time in TIAA Bank Field in Duval County.
This match-up, their 57th all-time (starting in 1995 when the Titans were the Houston Oilers), with the Titans leading the series 34-22-0 over the Jaguars, began with a punt from each side, followed by the Titans getting to the scoreboard first, courtesy of a field goal by kicker Randy Bullock from 51 yards out to make it 3-0 Titans with 1:23 remaining in the first quarter.
Jacksonville would respond with a drive that featured four first downs, but would find its premature ending on a trick play gone awry, when Lawrence pitched the ball back to no one, leaving defensive lineman Rashad Weaver with a gift to recover for Tennessee.
The Titans would capitalize on the Jaguars' turnover with a 21-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Joshua Dobbs, a former backup for the Jaguars, to tight end Chig Okonkwo to advance the Titans out to a 10-0 lead with 5:32 before half.
Wide receiver Jamal Agnew would take the ensuing kickoff 54 yards, starting Jacksonville at midfield with 5:24 left on the game clock.
The Jaguars would gain the remaining 50 yards on six plays, residing in the Titans' end zone at the culmination of this drive, achieving their first points of the game on a 25-yard pass-play from Lawrence to wide receiver Christian Kirk, bringing the score to 10-7 Titans at the 2:36 mark.
This touchdown was Kirk's 25th of his career and the reception rose him to 80 total receptions on the season, making him and Zay Jones the first Jacksonville tandem to have at least 80 receptions apiece in the same season.
The last time it happened? With two Jaguars' receivers that are arguably their best tandem of all-time, Keenan McCardell and Jimmy Smith, over 20 years ago, in 2001.
Quieting any momentum Jacksonville could take into the second half, Tennessee ended the first half with an 11-play drive that they took 50 yards in 2:36 to achieve their second field goal of the game in as many tries, this time from 39 yards out, to advance out to a 13-7 lead at the break.
The Jaguars would advance their first drive of the second half all the way into the Titans' redzone as far as their eight-yard line.
After Lawrence overthrew a wide open Zay Jones in the end zone on third down for a potential score, kicker Riley Patterson would send a try from 26 yards away through the uprights to shorten the game back to a three-point deficit for Jacksonville, down 13-10 with 10:09 remaining on the third-quarter clock.
Worth noting, Lawrence's first pass of this drive, which went to Agnew, would aid him in making it to and advancing pass the 4,000-yard mark in passing here in his sophomore season in the NFL.
Just as they did at the end of the first half, the Jaguars' defense held the Titans to a field goal, this from 41 yards out for Bullock's third field goal on the night, extending the Titans out to a 16-10 lead at the 6:02 mark.
Tennessee's next drive would see running back Derrick Henry break away for a 30-yard gain. However, a holding penalty on Okonkwo would negate the run and send the Titans back 10 yards, taking them from what would have been the Jaguars' 46-yard line and, instead, placing them at their own 24.
On 3rd-&-17, Dobbs would air it out down the left side of the field and Jacksonville cornerback Tyson Campbell would get under it, intercepting Dobbs and returning the ball from his own 46 to the Tennesee 25 for a 29-yard catch-and-run.
Patterson would connect from 36 yards away to give the Jaguars points off of the Titans' turnover, moving their deficit back once again to three points, this time 16-13, with 14:49 to play in the fourth quarter.
Walker would take Henry down in the backfield for a loss of two yards on second down, followed by defensive end Roy Robertson-Harris sacking Dobbs for a loss of five yards, forcing Tennessee to punt the ball away inside 13 minutes to go in the game.
The defensive presence would not be equaled by the offense, who punted the ball back to the Titans on a three-and-out where Lawrence had his 3rd-&-7 pass attempt batted away by Weaver, who had recovered the aforementioned first-half fumble.
Jacksonville's defense would give their offense another opportunity when they forced a three-and-out by Tennessee to follow.
Nose tackle Teair Tart would fly by the Jaguars' offensive line untouched to sack Lawrence, starting the drive with a nine-yard loss. The end of the drive happened shortly after, with another Jaguars' three-and-out.
On 3rd-&-6 from his own 35, Dobbs was hit on the arm by Jenkins, forcing him to fumble. Linebacker Josh Allen scooped up the bouncing ball in the open field and returned it 37 yards to "glory territory", providing Jacksonville with their first lead of the contest, 20-16, with 2:51 to play.
Allen would force Dobbs to fumble again on the Titans' next possession. Dobbs would recover but defensive end Adam Gotsis and free safety Andre Cisco would sack him for a five-yard loss.
Tennessee tight end Austin Hooper would be flagged for a false start, sending his team back five more yards for a 3rd-&-17 try from their own 43-yard line.
Jacksonville's defense would keep running back Hassan Haskins in front of them despite his back-to-back catches, leading to a turnover on downs by Tennessee.
The Jaguars would run out the clock on their rival Titans from here, holding on for the four-point victory, 20-16.
It may have taken them over 57 minutes to gain the lead, but the lead was gained at the most opportune moment.
Punch their tickets.
The turnaround team of the NFL, from last place to playoffs, will move on to play an 18th game, at least.
Your Jacksonville Jaguars have won the AFC South and will host an AFC Wild Card game as the fourth seed with a 9-8 overall record on the regular season.
The only fitting way to state what that means is by sharing what the crowd does after every win in the Bank, with two syllables that can last forever...
Categories: Jacksonville Jaguars, NFL