JACKSONVILLE – What happened was unexpected, historical, memorable and enjoyable.
What matters now for the Jaguars is what happens next.
"We established something this year I think is sustainable," Doug Pederson said Monday, two days after his first season as the Jaguars' head coach ended. "We just have to build on that."
Such was the tone Monday morning at TIAA Bank Field as players packed their lockers and readied for the 2023 offseason: Sadness mixed with pride and optimism.
"We set a new standard," quarterback Trevor Lawrence said. "We're not going to settle for anything less. There's more out there for us. We're just excited to get that opportunity again."
The Jaguars, after finishing with the NFL's worst record in 2020 and 2021, in 2022 won their first AFC South title since 2017. They beat the Los Angeles Chargers, 31-30, in an AFC Wild Card Playoff game in Jacksonville before losing to the AFC's No. 1-seed – the Kansas City Chiefs – 27-20 in an AFC Divisional Playoff game in Kansas City, Mo., Saturday.
Lawrence spoke of a "hunger that's left after coming up short."
"I think everybody feels that," Lawrence said, adding of Saturday's loss: "It's frustrating when you think about the game. We're there. People want to talk about the future. It's frustrating because we still had everything we needed and every opportunity to win that game.
"We didn't get it done. That's what kind of eats at you a little bit, but we'll let that fuel us for next year. You remember that feeling and you use it moving forward. We're just going to get better and better and those are the teams you have to beat."
The Jaguars, after losing all five October games and starting 4-8, won their last five regular-season games with a late-season knack for the dramatic. They rallied from a four-game deficit with seven games remaining to win the South and rallied from deficits of 17 (Las Vegas), nine (Baltimore), 17 (Dallas), 10 (Tennessee) and 27 (Chargers) to win their final five home games.
The Jaguars beat Dallas on an overtime interception return, returned a fumble for a touchdown with 2:51 remaining to clinch the division against Tennessee in Week 18 and registered the biggest come-from-behind victory in franchise history to beat the Chargers.
"It's just a testament to this team and the belief and the mindset we've built here," Lawrence said. "It wasn't easy. We went through some rough patches this season. It's just a testament to the amount of work everybody put in, the belief we had until the very end.
"It's really cool to be part of that and to have that be part of your culture moving forward. That speaks volumes to who we're going to be."
Pederson on Monday discussed the turnaround for a team that won 10 games – including a playoff game – after winning 10 total games the previous three seasons.
"There is a sense of accomplishment for everything this team has gone through over the last year and a half," he said. "To go from one of the worst teams record-wise a year ago to winning a playoff game this year, there is a sense of accomplishment. It's just a credit to these guys.
"It wasn't a pretty season by any means. We had that stretch that was pretty rough on us, but every guy had a belief that we could accomplish our goals. They never wavered from that. And it's a credit to them kind of sticking to it. It is something to really build upon."
Pederson, who coached the Philadelphia Eagles to postseason appearances in 2017-2019 and a Super Bowl title following the 2017 season, said the Jaguars' goal is "to get to that game ultimately." He also said the Jaguars should be helped moving forward by consistency.
Of the four teams playing in the AFC playoffs this past weekend, the Jaguars were the only team with a head coach in his first season with the team. Andy Reid is in his 10th season as the Chiefs' head coach. Sean McDermott is in his sixth season as the Buffalo Bills' head coach and Zac Taylor is in his fourth season as the Cincinnati Bengals' head coach.
"We're close," Pederson said. "I think the leadership's right. The core guys we have are right. It just boils down to just continuing to work hard, just trusting each other. There's consistency with the staff, there's consistency with the players. These are teams that have been established for a while, and these players have been around each other.
"That's what it takes. It takes that continuity and consistency. We're just kind of the beginning phase of that."