AFC South reporter
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Earlier this week, Jaguars coach Doug Pederson summed up how Jacksonville’s 2022 season should be defined.
He had been asked for his message to the players entering the divisional round.
“We’ve put ourselves in this position to be one of the four teams left in the AFC and you’ve got a lot to play for,” Pederson explained Tuesday. “Whether we win or lose, our season was a huge success from that standpoint.”
And that message remains the same in the wake of the Jaguars’ 27-20 loss to the Chiefs at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium, ending Jacksonville’s season.
This Jags campaign has been a success. A massive success.
That doesn’t erase the hurt of Saturday’s game for the Jaguars, of course. They had favorable circumstances. Despite being a heavy underdog, Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes injured his ankle late in the first quarter and missed the rest of the first half, and the Jaguars were unable to capitalize.
It was 10-7 when Mahomes left the game after a field goal. But on the Chiefs’ ensuing possession, the Jaguars gave up a 98-yard touchdown run to running back Chad Henne, aided by a pass call on defensive lineman Arden Key and a 39-yard run by running back Isiah Pacheco
The Jaguars pulled back to within three points early in the fourth quarter with a four-yard touchdown run by Travis Etienne Jr., set up by a 37-yard strike from Trevor Lawrence to Zay Jones and an 18-yard punt return by wide receiver Christian Kirk. But the Chiefs’ lead was back to 10 after Mahomes, on his ankle, engineered a 10-play, 75-yard touchdown drive to put Kansas City up 27-17 midway through the final period.
Then the Jaguars had back-to-back losses. Receiver Jamal Agnew fumbled at the 3-yard line, then Lawrence was picked off by cornerback Jaylen Watson who targeted Jones.
Jacksonville was still in it all the way, after Patterson’s 48-yard field goal before a failed field goal attempt with 24 seconds left.
“Some of the same ugly mistakes that appeared in this game were those that appeared earlier in the season,” Pederson said.
But, loss aside, how could this Jaguars season be described as anything other than a success?
Until 2021, this was a franchise swimming in irrelevance and dysfunction. A franchise that had four wins the previous two seasons combined. A franchise that finished last in its division four years in a row. A franchise that last made the playoffs in 2017. A franchise that had shown no progress despite repeatedly picking at or near the top of the draft.
Then in Year 1 with Pederson, they found something to build on.
“No one expected us, the Jaguars, to be in this football game, from the beginning of the season until today,” Pederson said. “I just told them how proud I was of them for how they stuck together all season, how they fought and battled through a lot of adversity. Proud of the way they fought all season to get to this place and really fight in this The game comes down to a kick in the game to potentially see what happens.”
Of course, we expected an improvement in the Jaguars’ first season under the prestigious Pederson, a Super Bowl-winning coach. But not like this: nine regular-season wins (a six-win improvement over last season), an AFC South title and a playoff victory. Lawrence, who struggled as a rookie, emerged as a true franchise quarterback.
The most important? The culture has changed; the high standard. It starts with Pederson, who made transparency and building trust his top priorities upon arriving in Jacksonville. The foundation he laid made the Jaguars bulletproof for the adversity they faced in 2022. He helped them overcome a 2-6 start to the season, including a five-game losing streak in October . Helped them to five comeback wins since early November, including the third-largest comeback win in NFL playoff history last week when they beat the Chargers in the wild card after falling 27-0 in the second fourth
“Practice wasn’t a time where we just met or beat each other,” Jones said of the culture. “We were trying to win in practice. There were scenarios in practice that were really, really difficult … we’d have a routine for what we’re doing normally and then maybe Doug would flip the script: ‘Now, it’s a competition period. .’ good in good third down Who will win this. Put us in a safe situation. Put us on a third and long. Put us in a stressful situation. It puts the defense in a stressful situation. Turn on the noise. Those are the kind of things that give you that feeling in your stomach like, “Although, it’s practical. There’s something at stake.” So you are constantly practicing these habits. So when it’s game time, it’s not that you get into game mode, it’s that you’re already there.”
Heading into 2023 and beyond, the Jaguars would have reason to believe they can be one of the AFC’s top contenders for the foreseeable future, in the mix with the Chiefs, Bills and Bengals, with the right adjustments. Now they have the coach. They have the quarterback. They have the base. And they’ll have Calvin Ridley, the Falcons’ former No. 1 wide receiver acquired in November, who will be eligible to play in 2023, assuming there are no hiccups with his reinstatement process next month (he was suspended until at least 2022 to bid for NFL games).
“Our expectation is to be in these games every year,” Pederson said. “We want to be one of the four, five, six teams in the AFC every year.”
The 2022 Jaguars are a success, and to define them as anything, despite Saturday’s loss to the Chiefs, would discredit where this team has taken the franchise.
“To be a part of turning Jacksonville around, to even see the city come back alive and the fans come back alive, it’s amazing,” Evan Engram said. “It’s something that this group of guys can carry for the rest of their careers, the rest of their lives. We’re literally just getting started.”
“We don’t expect mediocrity from this team anymore,” defenseman Foye Oluokun said. “That’s for sure.”
Ben Arthur is the AFC South reporter for FOX Sports. He previously worked for The Tennessean/USA TODAY Network, where he was the Titans beat writer for a year and a half. He covered the Seattle Seahawks for SeattlePI.com for three seasons (2018-20) before moving to Tennessee. You can follow Ben on Twitter at @benyarthur.
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