JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser examines five key plays from the Jaguars’ 31-30 victory over the Los Angeles Chargers in a 2022 AFC Wild Card Playoff game at TIAA Bank Field Saturday
1. Gutsy call. We'll cheat for a second consecutive week and move a late play to the beginning of "Key plays" – because for a second consecutive week, the key play was one of the biggest plays in Jaguars history. Last week, it was outside linebacker Josh Allen's game-winning fumble return for a touchdown with 2:51 remaining in an AFC South-clinching victory over Tennessee. On Saturday, it was running back Travis Etienne Jr.'s 25-yard sweep around the right side of the line on fourth-and-one from the Chargers 41 – a play that gave the Jaguars a first down at the Chargers 16 with :37 remaining. Head Coach Doug Pederson called timeout after the Jaguars first came to the line because he didn't like the defensive formation with the original play call. Quarterback Trevor Lawrence said he initially was mad because he liked the original call, then figured Pederson was right. The Jaguars then ran a sweep to Etienne out of a T-Formation alignment. "I didn't like the look we had for the play we had called," Pederson said. "We reloaded, regrouped and put our heads together and came up with that call. It was a great effort by Travis." Asked if he was OK with the risk of running outside in short yardage, Pederson said: "Sometimes, listen … if they're outside, you go inside; if they're inside, you go outside. Travis is a heck of a back. With his speed and ability, he made a great play on that one." Jaguars kicker Riley Patterson's 36-yard field goal two plays later as time expired gave the Jaguars the victory in a game they trailed 27-0 in the second quarter.
2. Tip – and uh-oh. The Chargers got a big play – and big momentum – early when the Jaguars got an unlucky break. First, the Chargers intercepted a short pass from Lawrence on second-and-six from the Jaguars 28 when defensive lineman Sebastian Joseph-Day tipped the ball at the line of scrimmage and linebacker Drue Tranquill intercepted and returned it to the Jaguars 18. That ended the game's opening possession. Chargers running back Austin Ekelar scored on the second play of the ensuing possession, with his 13-yard run giving Los Angeles a 7-0 lead with 13:33 remaining in the first quarter.
3. Pick No. 3. Nothing went right for the Jaguars early – and that trend continued in a major way late in the first quarter. On third-and-five from the Jaguars 19, Lawrence threw short for tight end Evan Engram – and Samuel stepped in front of the pass for his second interception of the game and the Chargers' third interception of the game. Ekeler three plays later ran around the left side of the line and scored easily to give the Chargers a 17-0 lead with :49 remaining in the first quarter. Los Angeles had moved 34 yards for its first two touchdowns. This interception was the third of Lawrence's four in the first half. "It was definitely the worst half of my football life – and a lot of people's football life, too," Lawrence said with a smile. "I felt like only one of those plays was a bad decision, so I felt like I was seeing things all right. They made a couple of great plays. I just needed to settle in. We couldn't get a drive going. I knew once we got rolling and got the momentum, I felt good about it."
4. Whatever could go wrong … The Jaguars weren't a particularly mistake-prone team all season. That changed dramatically Saturday – and it wasn't all mistakes by Lawrence. While Lawrence's interceptions accounted for four first-half turnovers, a fifth came in bizarre fashion and led to the Chargers' fifth score. The Chargers punted on fourth-and-two from their 40, with the punt bouncing off the helmet of Jaguars cornerback Chris Claybrooks as the veteran tried to block for returner Jamal Agnew. The ball caromed toward the goal line, with Agnew fighting for the recovery but Chargers linebacker Amen Ogbongbemiga recovering at the Jaguars 6. Cameron Dicker's 23-yard field goal pushed the Chargers' lead to 27-0 with 4:25 remaining in the second quarter. The Chargers at that point had 20 points off turnovers and had driven 35 yards for 17 of their 27 points.
5. Inching closer … The Jaguars were a comeback team throughout the second half of the season, and they gave themselves a sliver of hope for a second-half rally late with a solid drive late in the first half. Lawrence, after struggling throughout the first 28 minutes, led the Jaguars on a seven-play, 47-yard drive that ended with a nine-yard touchdown pass to Engram. Lawrence completed five of six passes for 46 yards on the drive, and the touchdown to Engram cut the Chargers' lead to 27-7 with :24 remaining in the second quarter. Engram finished with seven receptions for 93 yards and a touchdown.
5a. … and closer. The Jaguars needed a long drive and a lot of time to cut into the Chargers' lead, but when they did, they made it a two-score game with more than 20 minutes remaining. The Jaguars forced a Chargers punt on the first possession of the second half, then drove 89 yards on 14 plays – a drive that used 7:17 of the third quarter. Lawrence capped the drive with a six-yard pass to wide open wide receiver Marvin Jones Jr. in the back of the end zone. Lawrence completed eight of eight passes for 68 yards on the drive, with the touchdown cutting the lead to 27-14 with 5:11 remaining in the third quarter. Jones caught three passes for 29 yards and a touchdown.
5b. Hey, hey … Zay. The Jaguars' spirited second-half rally continued when Lawrence passed 39 yards to a wide-open Zay Jones with :44 remaining in the third quarter. That made it 30-20, Chargers – and it stayed that way after an incomplete conversion pass from Lawrence to Zay Jones in the back of the end zone. Jones caught eight passes for 74 yards and a touchdown.
5c. Two feet down – and over the top. The drama continued in the fourth quarter – and the Jaguars cut the lead to a score as the now red-hot Lawrence and equally hot offense continued to move. Lawrence cut the Chargers' lead to four with a nine-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Christian Kirk. Then, after an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Chargers defensive end Joey Bosa – Lawrence dove over the top of the line of scrimmage to make it 30-28, Chargers, with 5:25 remaining. Kirk caught eight passes for 78 yards and a touchdown.