ARLINGTON, Texas – Now, this was rhythm. Big-time rhythm.
Quarterback Trevor Lawrence started and turned in the best performance of his rookie preseason, leading the Jaguars to two first-half touchdown drives in a 34-14 victory over the Dallas Cowboys in the 2021 preseason finale at AT&T Stadium.
"It felt great out there, obviously," Lawrence said. "I think we just executed a lot better than we have the last two games. It was great to see. It was a good feeling. It was a lot better feeling coming into the locker room today as opposed to this time last week.
"It's one step in the right direction. Now, they're going to count for real."
The victory was the first for the Jaguars in the 2021 preseason.
"It's big," safety Jarrod Wilson said. "You never take any win for granted. It's so hard to win a game in this league, preseason or not. To get a 'W' on the board feels good. The vibe is different. The energy is different. The mindset is different. It was definitely huge."
Lawrence, the No. 1 overall selection in the 2021 NFL Draft, played the first three series Sunday. He capped two of the drives with touchdown passes – to wide receivers Pharoh Cooper and Laviska Shenault Jr. – and left in the second quarter with the Jaguars leading 14-0.
"It builds a lot of confidence going into the season," Lawrence said. "It's nice to finish the preseason with a game like that."
Head Coach Urban Meyer said the Jaguars considered not playing Lawrence because four of five starting offensive linemen – center Brandon Linder, left guard Andrew Norwell, right guard A.J. Cann and left tackle Cam Robinson – missed the game.
Meyer had said during the week leading to the game the Jaguars needed to "score points" Sunday, and has expressed concern over a lack of rhythm by the first-team offense. The Jaguars had scored just three first-half points while losing their first two preseason games – to Cleveland and New Orleans.
"Today solved a lot of problems," Meyer said. "Last week we felt awful walking off the field, especially the first half. You feel good now. But I'm overdoing it. We can enjoy a win, go home and get ready to play when they count in the won-loss column."
Meyer added, "The preseason was fairly new to me, and I learned along the way. So I would judge our preseason as a success right now. There's a lot of energy in the locker room."
The Jaguars open the 2021 regular season at Houston September 12.
"We have to weeks to get the strongest version of ourselves," Meyer said.
That changed fast in the preseason finale. Lawrence, playing against a Dallas team that held out most of its starters, was effective from the beginning Sunday. His long pass to wide receiver Phillip Dorsett II set up a first-possession touchdown, and he capped that drive with a double-pump touchdown pass to Cooper.
Lawrence's second touchdown pass came on his final play of the game – a perfect four-yard pass to Shenault in the corner of the end zone.
Lawrence completed 11 of 12 passes for 139 yards and two touchdowns for a passer rating of 154.5. The Jaguars had lost their last 17 games entering the game – 15 to end last regular season and two to start this preseason.
C.J. Beathard, who solidified the backup quarterback role when the Jaguars traded quarterback Gardner Minshew II to the Philadelphia Eagles Saturday, replaced Lawrence early in the second quarter. Beathard completed five of 10 passes for 86 yards and no touchdowns with an interception.
The Jaguars outgained the Cowboys 246-159 by halftime and led 17-7 at that time. Jake Luton replaced Beathard in the third quarter, completing 16 of 18 passes for 137 yards and one touchdown with no interceptions.
Step by step:
- The Jaguars, after holding Dallas without a first down on the game's opening possession, drove 68 yards on their first possession and took a 7-0 lead when Lawrence passed 18 yards into the left side of the end zone for a touchdown to Cooper; Lawrence keyed the drive with a perfect over-the-shoulder pass to Dorsett II for a 38-yard gain to the Dallas 24 on 2nd-and-4.
- The Jaguars continued to control the game in the second quarter – and continued to move effectively offensively. After beginning a drive late in the first quarter from their 33, the Jaguars capped that drive with Lawrence's four-yard touchdown pass to Shenault to make it 14-0 with 13:27 remaining in the first half; the Jaguars reached the Cowboys 23 with a 15-yard pass from Lawrence to tight end Chris Manhertz on 1st-and-10 from the Dallas 38 on the final play of the first quarter. The Cowboys trimmed the lead to 14-7 with a 19-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Garrett Gilbert to wide receiver Aaron Parker with 4:54 remaining in the second quarter. Kicker Josh Lambo converted from 45 yards to push the Jaguars' lead to 17-7 with 3:28 remaining in the half.
- The Jaguars pushed the lead to 24-7 when Luton passed 11 yards to wide receiver Laquon Treadwell. That play came with 2:17 remaining in the third quarter, capping a 12-play, 82-yard drive.
- Lambo converted from 34 yards to push the Jaguars' lead to 27-7 with 7:53 remaining, with running back Devine Ozigbo's four-yard with 2:41 remaining making it 34-7. The Cowboys cut the lead to the final margin when wide receiver Johnnie Dixon caught an eight-yard pass from Ben DiNucci with 1:22 remaining.
- Notable:Nine players did not play for Jaguars Sunday: wide receiver Marvin Jones Jr., wide receiver DJ Chark Jr., cornerback Tyson Campbell, wide receiver Tavon Austin, cornerback Tre Herndon, defensive end/linebacker Josh Allen, guard A.J. Cann, center Brandon Linder and guard Andrew Norwell. …
- Injury report:Jaguars second-year cornerback Chris Claybrooks left the game in the first half but returned.