It could hardly have been a worse calendar year for the Jacksonville Jaguars. In the 365 days from January 3, 2021 to Jan. 2, 2022, the Jaguars lost 15 of 17 games on the field, fired two head coaches, and had their fan base prepared to dress as clowns for the final home game of the 2021 season on Sunday.
The last day of this nightmare of a calendar year saw the Jaguars get stomped upon by the New England Patriots, 50-10, for Jacksonville’s eighth consecutive loss.
Certainly, this was not the way it was supposed to go after the only truly good day of the past year, when the Jaguars drafted quarterback phenom, Trevor Lawrence, with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.
But beginning on Sunday, Jan. 9, 2022, a new day dawned over TIAA Bank Field. For three hours on Sunday afternoon, it was the Indianapolis Colts, not the Jaguars, who slumped off the field in shame and despair, having had their playoff hopes so utterly dashed in a 26-11 thrashing at the hands of the Jaguars.
For one day, the final day after a terrible year, the Jaguars and their fans could hold their heads high and not just dream of better days, but actually see what it could look like.
The 2021 season was a Meyer Lemon, but Lawrence made all Jaguars fans some lemonade on Sunday
To say the season has been up and down for the rookie Lawrence would be a massive understatement. The Jaguars, who should have known better, were in deep trouble from the moment they hired Urban Meyer to lead the Lawrence era. That it took the franchise until mid-December to do the obvious and fire former Florida and Ohio State coach only further stunted Lawrence’s development.
But no one has questioned the talent or the work ethic of the Clemson star. Just days before his Patriots throttled the Jaguars, head coach Bill Belichick was effusive in his praise of the rookie.
And on Sunday, Lawrence showed why he has a chance to be a special player at the NFL level. Facing a Colts team favored by two touchdowns and needing a victory to seize a playoff berth, Lawrence stared the Colts down and completed 23 of 32 passes for 223 yards and two touchdowns.
Lawrence completed his first 12 pass attempts as the Jaguars sent the message that they would not be pushed around, despite not having anything to play for and having lost eight games in a row.
“Oh man, it feels great,” Lawrence said. “We want to make this the new norm. It’s not a surprise that we come out here, all phases of the game, play well, dominate the game and get a win. We want to make that a new normal and that’s what we’re building here.
“We’re a team that no matter who it is, where it is and will be ready to play. That’s what I want us to be known for moving forward. I think we’re building towards that. So, I’m really excited. No matter who it is, our plan is to win and go dominate and we did it today and I’m just proud of this group.”
Thanks to the Detroit Lions, the Jaguars got the win and the No. 1 pick in the 2022 NFL Draft
It wasn’t just Lawrence on this Sunday. The defense clamped down on running back Jonathan Taylor, undoubtedly ruining any chance he had of winning the league MVP. The Jags held Taylor to 77 yards on 15 carries. Life wasn’t much better for quarterback Carson Wentz.
Josh Allen had two of Jacksonville’s six sacks. Damien Wilson had a sack, an interception, and forced a fumble.
“Oh, man, it was huge,” Jags cornerback Shaquill Griffin said. “We’re not sure what’s going to happen with the staff, the coaches, the players, but understand you’ve got one more chance to put it on tape. Leave no doubt, because you never want to be that guy leaving the season saying, ‘Man, I just wish this play I would have did a little bit more.’ You don’t want to go into the offseason like that. It will haunt you forever.”
And if the victory on the field wasn’t enough good news for the Jaguars on Sunday, they learned late in the game that despite raising their record to 3-14, they did not sacrifice ownership of the No. 1 overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft.
The Detroit Lions saw to that, pulling their own upset on Sunday, albeit against a Green Bay Packers team that, unlike Indianapolis, had no incentive to win. The victory lifted the Lions to 3-13-1, giving the Jaguars the top pick by a margin of a half-game.
Jacksonville is now the fifth team in NFL history, and the first since the 2017-18 Cleveland Browns, to have the No. 1 pick in consecutive seasons.
The offseason got a little bit shorter in Jacksonville after the Jaguars saved their best for last
The Jaguars are entering 2022 with much on their plate. There will be another coaching hire. But will owner Shad Kahn keep general manager Trent Baalke, who was the target of Sunday’s “Clown-Out by fans who showed up for Sunday’s game in clown regalia to protest the way Baalke has run the team during his tenure? Who will the Jaguars target with the No. 1 overall pick, and what free agent moves will precede that?
Those are all questions for a few months down the road. For now, at the start of a new year with an open slate, the Jaguars players and fans can be content to soak in a beautiful Sunday afternoon when their future finally looked as bright as the Florida sun.
“I’m excited for the future,” Lawrence said. “Get us some great momentum going this offseason. Really just proud of this group. You know, it’s not the easiest thing to have a rough year and you come out here you know you’re not making the playoffs, you know this is your last game and to see guys finish and not check out and just get to tomorrow when they go on their offseason. Everybody wanted to win this game. to show we do have a little pride and it was a great day.
“Just really proud of our guys. Everybody was locked in. If [the Colts] win this game, they’re in. The stakes don’t get higher, and just to come out and dominate, it feels really good to finish the season that way.”