After a methodical, efficient 19-3 victory Thursday night over the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium, quarterback Trevor Lawrence showed up for his postgame press conference in a Christmas sweater.
It was given to Lawrence by Jaguars linebacker Foye Oluokun, part of a holiday collection from his “Team Ugly Gang” clothing brand.
The sweater retails for $55. Of course, that’s nothing compared to the lavish present the Jets handed the Jaguars two years ago, foolishly rallying to defeat the Los Angeles Rams 23-20 just before Christmas and granting them access to Lawrence as the No. 1 overall draft pick.
Talk about a gift that keeps on giving to Jacksonville, and may well haunt the Jets for the next 10-15 years.
Gene’s previous 3 columns
Eye on the playoffs:Never-say-die Jaguars set aim at Jets, playoffs after upsetting Cowboys
Can they do it?Believe it or not, Jaguars look like a team of playoff destiny
All the right moves:Hiring Pederson was the right move for Jaguars, Trevor Lawrence development
If it wasn’t evident by Lawrence’s play the past six weeks how that two-year-old Rams’ victory could dramatically alter the course of both franchises, the reality hit the Jets with a resounding thud in front of a prime time national television audience and 70,043 disapproving spectators.
Lawrence affirmed his ascension as a top 10 NFL quarterback in windy, rainy weather conditions, putting up respectable numbers (20 of 31, 229 yards, 1 rushing TD) and making enough plays with his arm and legs to ensure his team controlled the entire game .
With Lawrence playing like a Pro Bowl quarterback, the surging Jaguars (7-8) are now two wins away — against the Houston Texans and the first-place Tennessee Titans (7-7) — from winning an AFC South title that looked to be near impossible only three weeks ago.
“For the most part, I thought he did a nice job of controlling and managing what we asked him to do,” Jaguars coach Doug Pederson said of Lawrence. “The weather was obviously a challenge with the wind and the rain, but I thought he played tough again, played physical. It was really good to see out of our quarterback.”
As for Zach Wilson, the Jets’ No. 2 picks from the 2021 draft after Lawrence, he’s trending dangerously towards bust territory.
He did nothing against the Jaguars’ stout defense, ultimately getting benched for a no-name, former CFL quarterback, Chris Streveler, an elevated practice-squad player who had thrown only 25 NFL passes in two seasons with the Arizona Cardinals.
Wilson, only starting because the quarterback who took his job, Mike White, has a rib injury, too often looked out of his league. Although under duress by the blitz-happy Jaguars, he also missed open receivers, whether air-mailing a pass way over the head of Corey Davis or leaving a deep ball way short.
Jets fans, already down on Wilson and his 54.9 percent accuracy this season, repeatedly booed him and the listless offense throughout the game.
On a night where the wind-chill factor was 38 degrees, the contrast in quarterback play was a heartwarming reminder to the Jaguars how lucky they feel to have Lawrence continuing to live up to all his pre-draft hype.
Seriously, can you imagine what the Jaguars would look like if they had the No. 2 picks in the 2021 draft and they got stuck with Zach Wilson instead of Trevor? Not only would the Jaguars not be in position to win the AFC South, but Pederson is likely coaching elsewhere without No. 16 as an enticement to take the job.
Peaking at the right time
For only the second time in 15 years, the Jaguars have put together a three-game win streak in December, sending a clear message that they should probably now be considered the division favorite more than the reeling Titans.
This matchup against the Jets in a tough road environment figured to be a toss-up game, according to oddsmakers. But it was evident from the time Lawrence led the Jaguars on a 16-play, 96-yard touchdown drive for a 10-3 lead early in the second quarter — never facing a third down until he scored on a quarterback sneak — that the Jets ‘ offense had no answers.
Miserable weather conditions didn’t faze Lawrence or his two most effective wing men, tight end Evan Engram (7 catches, 113 yards) and tailback Travis Etienne (112 scrimmage yards). The Jaguars prevailed with relative ease, another sign they’re emerging as one of the NFL’s most dangerous teams as the season nears the finish line.
“It just kind of shows what we’re capable of doing offensively,” Pederson said of the 96-yard TD drive. “I think it just gives the guys confidence throughout the game that you can build off of.”
This was the furthest thing from a style-points contest, but it might have been the Jaguars’ most complete game since dominating the Indianapolis Colts and Los Angeles Chargers in back-to-back weeks three months ago.
A menacing Jaguars defense — playing without injured starters Travon Walker and Foley Fatukasi — had eight pass breakups and eight tackles for a loss by eight different players, including three sacks. The Jets had only three first downs in seven possessions before Wilson was mercifully benched for Streveler.
“What a great feeling this is to just do what we said we were going to do,” said outside linebacker Josh Allen. “Now we just have to finish these last two [games]. So the attention to detail and sense of urgency is still up high.”
For the Jaguars, it’s been a complete reversal from the team that endured an 0-5 October and is now overflowing with confidence from every corner of the locker room.
“Every game is a must win for us and that’s how we’re treating it and we understand that, and we love it,” said Lawrence. “That’s the position we put ourselves in, good and bad. We love where we’re at, we love the momentum we have, but yeah, good teams win these games because you have to. Just to see how the team has grown, how we’ve stuck together. …
“I think the staff and especially coach Pederson has had faith in us, even when maybe we didn’t in the beginning. Things were crazy and I think him just having that confidence in us, we kind of realized we have something special here and we had to kind of figure out what we wanted to do before it got too late. We made adjustments and really started playing our best ball at the right time.”
It’s becoming rather obvious that the Jaguars, who had no players named to the Pro Bowl, have evolved into a team better than the sum of their parts.
Taking down the Jets at MetLife Stadium for the first time since 2009 was another example of how masterfully Pederson, who should get Coach of the Year consideration if the Jaguars win the AFC South, has nurtured this team.
His play-calling, which features tons of pre-snap motion and keeps opponents guessing a lot more, seemed to befuddle the Jets’ No. 3-ranked defense and made it more tentative.
The Jaguars played textbook complementary football. When the defense held the Jets to a field goal after Lawrence’s early fumble gave them the ball 16 yards from the end zone, both Jaguars units seized that momentum and kept it the rest of the game.
Lawrence made sure one turnover didn’t turn into five like he did in tough conditions at Philadelphia back in Week 4. Pederson capitalized on the run-and-catch skills of his receivers and Etienne, allowing Lawrence to do more damage with short passes.
“It’s just explosive plays on layups and that’s what the guys have done a great job of this year,” Lawrence said. “Just getting the ball in space and our yards after catch have been really good and just guys in the perimeter blocking in the run game, just optimizes what the team’s about.
“Everybody’s unselfish, we want to win, and no one really cares about who gets the credit, who gets the yards, who gets whatever. It’s just about doing whatever it takes to win.”
Remarkably, the Jaguars find themselves in prime position to play for a division title and the No. 4 AFC seed. Either a win next week at Houston, or the Titans losing just one of their next two games against the Texans and Dallas Cowboys, ensures a winner-take-all showdown with Tennessee for the AFC South crown.
Whatever negative perceptions there were about the Jaguars a month ago or for most of the last decade, all of it is gradually withering away. This is a unified team, feeding off each other’s success, and coming together at the perfect time.
A big part of that is the Jaguars being handed access to Trevor Lawrence, the best Christmas gift the Jets now wish they had never given up.
Gfrenette@jacksonville.com: (904) 359-4540