JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser and senior correspondent Brian Sexton offer quick thoughts as the Jaguars (9-8) prepare to play the Los Angeles Chargers (10-7) in an AFC Wild Card Playoff game at TIAA Bank Field Saturday
John Oehser, Jaguars Senior Writer
- Comeback Cats. The Jaguars are in the postseason for the first time in five seasons for multiple reasons. An opportunistic defense peaking entering the playoffs. The emergence of second-year quarterback Trevor Lawrence. A teamwide belief in Head Coach Doug Pederson. But their defining trait may be the ability to overcome adversity and win close games. That's notable for multiple reasons, perhaps mostly because their first six losses – all in the first eight games – came by a score or less with the Jaguars losing the lead in all six losses. The Jaguars set the tone for their late-season run by rallying from a 17-point deficit for a 27-20 victory over the Las Vegas Raiders, and five of six victories since have been in come-from-behind fashion. Consider: The Jaguars played four home games after Halloween, and all four – the victory over Las Vegas, a 28-27 victory over the Baltimore Ravens, a 40-34 overtime victory over the Dallas Cowboys and an AFC South-clinching 20-16 victory over the Tennessee Titans Saturday – featured second-half rallies with the Jaguars trailing by at least nine points in every game. Those four games rank among the most memorable home victories in franchise history. This team made the postseason because of a flair for the dramatic and a "clutch gene," traits it lacked early in the season and for which it will be remembered long after this memorable season ends.
- The right time. The Jaguars' defense could get its most serious test in a month Saturday, with the Chargers ranking eighth in the NFL in total offense – and with Justin Herbert perhaps the most accomplished, dangerous quarterback the team has faced since 27-17 loss at Kansas City on November 6. The positive for the Jaguars: They enter the postseason playing as well as defensively as they have all season, having held their last three opponents to 22 total points and one touchdown. That followed a stretch of nine games in which the team allowed at least 20 points, with the Jaguars registering nine sacks and five takeaways in the last three games – and scoring three defensive touchdowns in the last four games. "They're growing together as a unit," Head Coach Doug Pederson said. "It takes a little time to gel as a unit." The defense has thrived on takeaways all season, registering 27 after finishing last in the NFL with nine in 2021, and the opportunistic and scrappy unit has had a remarkable knack late in the season for the big play at the key moment. Those traits could be tested as seriously Saturday as they have in a couple of months.
Brian Sexton, Jaguars Senior Correspondent…
- Welcome to the big time. Lawrence took a big step in November and finished the season among the NFL's top ten quarterbacks in attempts, completions, yards, touchdowns and quarterback rating. His late-game heroics against the Ravens and Cowboys showed he's ready for another step and his calm presence down 17 to the Raiders and 10 to the Titans exemplifies the big-game experiences from his days at Clemson. The game isn't too big for him, but he will experience an entirely different level of intensity and pressure Saturday. Playoff football creates pressure that can derail a young team if it's not careful and ready to play. Pederson has been through this as a player and as a Super Bowl-winning coach, so he knows where the pitfalls and potholes are for his team. He is, as he noted Tuesday, preparing his team – and especially his quarterback – for what to expect Saturday. Working in his favor is Herbert also is making his playoff debut, so it's not like it's Lawrence against Patrick Mahomes or Josh Allen or Joe Burrow right out of the gate. Win, and that's what he could face the next week in the Divisional Playoff round.
- The Chargers can really rush the passer. The numbers didn't bear that out in the regular season, when their 40 sacks were only five more than the Jaguars' average pass rush posted. But recall that Joey Bosa left the Week 3 Jaguars-Chargers matchup in Los Angeles and just returned in Week 17. Bosa is one of the best; his relentless and polished pass rush can wreck a game plan. Khalil Mack perhaps isn't the dominant force he once was, but he would start on any team in the league and is a very good player. When you slide the protection toward Bosa, you better have right tackle Jawaan Taylor or left tackle Walker Little prepared to handle him one-on-one. As soon as you settle in, the Chargers can bring linebacker Kyle Van Noy or even safety Derwin James, whose elite athleticism makes him a threat from wherever he's lined up. The Jaguars' offensive line has been really good this season, allowing just 26 sacks. They allowed just one to the Cowboys and one to the New York Jets in the last month – and those are two teams that can really get after the quarterback. The unit kept Lawrence clean in Los Angeles in Week 3. If the unit does it again Saturday, we could be talking about stopping Chris Jones in Kansas City in the divisional round next week.
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