JACKSONVILLE – Clutch plays at clutch times.
If there was an overarching theme through the first eight games of the Jaguars' 2023 season, that has been it.
The Jaguars are 6-2 and lead the AFC South by two and a half games. They share the best record in the AFC with the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs, the Baltimore Ravens and the Miami Dolphins. Their record is their best through eight games since their 1999 AFC Central championship season, a season they finished 14-2.
The Jaguars haven't been perfect. They have struggled at times offensively. They lost back-to-back games at home to the Chiefs and Houston Texans.
But they have been very good defensively – and as much as anything, the season has been defined by big plays in moments. That has meant a slew of memorable plays.
Here are one observer's selections for the biggest 10:
1. Back-to-back touchdowns in Indy. The Jaguars struggled to run early in a 31-21 Week 1 victory over the Indianapolis Colts. They made up for it late. First, rookie running back Tank Bigsby scored on one-yard run with 5:14 remaining for a 24-21 Jaguars lead. After cornerback Tyson Campbell intercepted Colts rookie quarterback Anthony Richardson on the ensuing series, running back Travis Etienne Jr. tested the right side of the line before running around the left for a game-clinching 26-yard touchdown that made it 31-21 with 4:08 remaining. "You have to continue to stick with that," Head Coach Doug Pederson said of the run offense.
2. Ridley for six. The Jaguars entered a 23-7 Week 4 victory over the Atlanta Falcons at Wembley Stadium in London on a two-game losing streak and needing a fast start. They got it from wide receiver Calvin Ridley. Playing against the team that selected him in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft, Ridley got open behind the secondary on the Jaguars' second drive. Quarterback Trevor Lawrence found Ridley for a 30-yard touchdown and a 7-0 lead with 5:44 remaining in the first quarter. The Jaguars never trailed in a victory that evened their record at 2-2 and started their current five-game winning streak. "It felt pretty good," Ridley said of the early touchdown. "Got in the endzone, got my team a touchdown to put points on the board, it felt good."
3. "I just jumped it." The Jaguars' defense has defined much of the season. One of the unit's biggest plays came with the Jaguars leading the Falcons, 10-0. On first-and-10 from the Jaguars 45, Falcons quarterback Desmond Ridder passed to wide receiver Drake London. Jaguars cornerback Darious Williams cut under the route and returned the interception 61 yards for a touchdown that Pederson called "huge." Added Williams, "We knew they're a good quick game team. I got my look, I saw [nickel corner] Tre Herndon go out. He kind of slowed him down for me and I just jumped it."
4. "That guy…" One of the Jaguars' biggest victories of the season came over the Buffalo Bills, 25-20, at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London in Week 5. Among the big Jaguars plays in that game came with them protecting an 18-13 lead with just over three minutes remaining. Ridley, who turned in multiple big plays on this day, turned in his biggest when he got behind Bills cornerback Tyrel Dodson for a 32-yard pass from Lawrence on third-and-4 from the Jaguars 31. "Calvin Ridley was the guy out there; he is that guy," Jaguars linebacker Josh Allen said. Etienne Jr.'s 35-yard run capped the drive for a 25-13 Jaguars lead with 2:56 remaining.
5. Etienne again. Etienne may be the Jaguars' most valuable offensive player through eight games. Perhaps his best game came against Buffalo. Not only did his 35-yard run cap the victory, but he keyed a fourth quarter in which the Jaguars repeatedly drove on a strong Bills defense to secure the victory. The Jaguars began an impressive stretch when Williams ripped the ball from Bills wide receiver Stefon Diggs for an interception that preserved an 11-7 lead. The Jaguars then drove 93 yards, with Etienne capping the drive with three runs for 27 yards – including a six-yard touchdown run for an 18-7 lead. "You want your run game to be the closer, be the finisher," Etienne said.
6. Saaaack – and a quick score. The Jaguars' most one-sided victory of the season to date came 37-21 over the Colts at EverBank Stadium in Week 6. The Colts' 3-0 lead in that game marked the only time in the last five games the Jaguars have trailed. A one-yard run by Etienne gave the Jaguars a 7-3 lead. Allen then got quickly around the Colts' left tackle Bernhard Raimann on the first play of the ensuing series, sacking quarterback Gardner Minshew and forcing a fumble that defensive lineman Angelo Blackson recovered at the Colts 22. That was the seventh of Allen's team-leading nine sacks this season, with Etienne taking the ensuing snap and running 22 yards for a 14-3 Jaguars lead with 14:01 remaining in the second quarter. "Josh is the heart and soul on defense," Pederson said.
7. "Flowers." The Jaguars all-but secured the victory over the Colts with one of their more cerebral touchdowns of the season. The Jaguars drove 65 yards in the second quarter, with Lawrence capping the drive with a 29-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Christian Kirk that made it 21-6 with 1:40 remaining in the second quarter. "Give [Lawrence] his flowers on this one," Kirk said. "Earlier in the week we saw something that they were doing Week 1. He brought me into the room and was like, 'When we call this be ready, I'm going to pump the hang route, then I am going to be able to find a window.' We got the exact same look, he pumped the hang route and was able to and put it on me right in the area of the defense, in the void, and take advantage of that opportunity. He did a great job being able to see that, identifying it and telling the coaches that that is what he wanted to do and putting it in the end zone." Added Lawrence, "That was something that I felt really confident that we would get, and it honestly happened exactly how I thought it would. It doesn't always work that way when you think something's going to work, but it's cool that it happened that way."
8. Piiiiick Six. The Jaguars lead the league with 18 takeaways through eight games. The defense got its second touchdown of the season in a 31-24 victory over the New Orleans Saints at the Caesars Superdome on October 19. With the Jaguars leading 17-9, the Saints faced third-and-10 from their 13 midway through the third quarter. Saints quarterback Derek Carr passed over the middle to wide receiver Rashid Shaheed. Williams defensed the pass, with inside linebacker Foye Oluokun intercepting and returning it down the left sideline for a 24-9 Jaguars lead with 6:47 remaining in the third quarter. "He's just all over the place," Lawrence said of Oluokun. "I'm glad he's on our team. He's as smart as they come."
9. Kirk for six. Big plays came often in the fourth quarter for both teams in New Orleans. For the Jaguars, no play was as big as second-and-8 from the Saints 44 with just over three minutes remaining. Lawrence found Kirk on a crossing route. The veteran caught the pass in front of Saints safety Tyrann Mathieu around the Saints 42, broke a tackle by defensive back Jordan Howden around the eight and stepped down the right sideline into the end zone for a 44-yard touchdown and a 31-24 lead with 3:09 remaining. "I don't think I've run that fast since, like, college," Kirk said. "That was some vintage stuff, I guess, but I'm glad I was able to do it in that moment." Added Lawrence, "I thought it was going to be maybe a 10-yard gain. I knew he had 20 on the angle, but then he took off and took it to the house. That was a great play by him to finish it."
10. All.The.Way. The Jaguars had missed multiple opportunities early in a 20-10 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers at Acrisure Stadium in Pittsburgh, Pa., this past Sunday. They then took momentum and a two-score lead with their biggest play of the game. It came in the third quarter when Lawrence found Etienne deep down the right sideline for a 56-yard touchdown. Etienne's two-point run on the ensuing play gave the Jaguars a 17-3 lead with 5:05 remaining in the third quarter. Pederson called the touchdown "a great read by Trevor. It was just a great play by both guys and it was something we needed to get something positive on offense." Lawrence and Etienne each said it was the longest pass play ever for the duo, who also played together at Clemson University. "That has to be the longest we've hit, for sure," Lawrence said.
Defense has been the heart of this team in the first half of the season 💪 Swipe through our standout defensive shots so far and prepare for another great 9 games ahead ➡️