JACKSONVILLE – This is what Doug Pederson wanted.
The Jaguars on Sunday registered one of their biggest and most emotional victories in recent memory – and in the wake of that victory, Pederson focused on the immediate future:
A meaningful mid-December game.
"It's a great opportunity for our team," Pederson said Monday, a day after the Jaguars rallied from two first-half deficits for a 36-22 victory over the AFC South-leading Tennessee Titans at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tenn.
The Jaguars (5-8) have won three of their last five games, with two victories in the last three weeks over AFC division leaders. They beat the AFC North-leading Baltimore Ravens, 28-27, at TIAA Bank Field on November 28.
They play host to the Dallas Cowboys (10-3) at TIAA Bank Field Sunday at 1 p.m. – a game with playoff implications for both teams.
"You want to be playing meaningful games in December and January," said Pederson, in his first season as the Jaguars' head coach. "When you look at the big picture of things, I didn't know if we were going to be in this position or not [when the season began]. It could be better, as we know. We are where we are because of our own doing.
"Now, we have the Cowboys this week. They're one of the top teams in the NFC."
The Jaguars on Sunday moved past the Indianapolis Colts (4-8-1) into second place in the South. They trail Tennessee (7-5) by two games with four games remaining for each team. The Titans will play the Jaguars at TIAA Bank Field in the regular-season finale.
If the teams tie for first and the Jaguars win the finale, the Jaguars will win the South because of a season sweep in the series. The Titans' schedule before the finale: at the Los Angeles Chargers (7-6), home against the Houston Texans (1-11-1) and home against Dallas. The Jaguars' schedule before the finale: home against Dallas, at the New York Jets (7-6) and at Houston.
"I want our guys to experience these moments," Pederson said of Sunday's game against the Cowboys. "We hope one day if things go well that we're playing in the postseason. These are moments you want to be in and see where your team actually is against really good opponents."
Sunday's victory marked the Jaguars' third this season over a team currently over .500. They beat the Chargers 38-10 in Week 2 before losing to the Philadelphia Eagles, 29-21, the following week. They followed a come-from-behind victory over the Ravens with their most one-sided loss of the season – 40-14 to the Detroit Lions.
Pederson and quarterback Trevor Lawrence each spoke Sunday of the importance of following this victory with a better next-week performance.
"It's a short-term memory business," Pederson said. "It's the 24-hour rule after the game and you're onto the next. You try to remember what you did last week, build on it and do a little more this week – and then you do more next week."
- Pederson on Monday discussed what was perhaps Sunday’s most memorable play – Lawrence’s one-yard run in the third quarter that gave the Jaguars a 27-14 lead. Lawrence stiff-armed linebacker Dylan Cole on the play and outran cornerback Roger McCreary to the end zone. Pederson after the game told the media to ask Lawrence about the play, and Lawrence said he probably should have handed the ball off. Pederson on Monday said the play called for Lawrence to hand the ball off with no option of keeping it. "It wasn't a read," Pederson said, smiling. "It wasn't a QB pull. It was a handoff. That's why I said, 'Ask him.' Maybe he would give you a straight answer." Pederson added of Lawrence, "He's a sharp guy. The linebacker came off the edge. He saw him flash and bend off the corner. He instinctively pulled the ball, stiff-armed him and dove into the end zone. There was sort of a bewildered look on the sideline from me and everybody else: 'What is he doing?' He knew what he was doing. It was just a good play." Pederson said while such plays can't be a habit, "If it works, I'm not going to fault him for it because it's something he saw."
- Pederson said he had no problem with Lawrence confronting Titans defensive lineman Kevin Strong following a Jaguars kneel on Sunday's final play. Titans players aggressively hit center Luke Fortner on the snap, after which Lawrence and Strong met and had words. After the players were quickly separated, Lawrence pointed at the scoreboard before leaving the field. "They protect him, he protects them," Pederson said. "I'm OK with it. I'm fine with it. It shows a lot of grit and determination. It shows he cares."