Slow starts, double-digit deficits no problem for these Jags
By MARK LONG
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) Trailing early? Yawn.
Double-digit deficit late? Shrug.
No hole seems too big for the Jacksonville Jaguars these days.
The Comeback Cats clawed back from 27 points down to stun the Los Angeles Chargers 31-30 in the opening round of the AFC playoffs. It was the latest come-from-behind victory for a Jacksonville team that's grown accustomed to slow starts and frantic finishes.
As much heart-pounding excitement as the head-scratching trend has delivered for the Jaguars and their fans, it's one they'd prefer to see end when Jacksonville (10-8) plays at top-seeded Kansas City (14-3) in the divisional round Saturday.
After all, the team's margin for error surely will shrink as the level of competition increases. And the Jaguars already experienced how difficult it is to play from behind at Arrowhead Stadium. It was one of the first stops in Jacksonville's "rally tour."
The Jaguars have trailed in nine of their past 10 games, including six by double digits. They won seven of those nine, including shocking the Chargers in one of the most improbable comebacks in NFL playoff history.
"I look at us like a bunch of cockroaches," safety Rayshawn Jenkins said. "Like, we can't be killed. We cannot be killed. We're going to fight you until it says zero-zero-zero-zero on the clock."
Trevor Lawrence followed four interceptions with four touchdown passes as Jacksonville made all the key plays down the stretch.
"We've put ourselves in a hole at times and we've worked ourselves out of it at times," coach Doug Pederson said. "Just to have the resiliency and the fight and the desire and the ability to continue to play because it could have easily gone the other way.
"And that's what I'm so proud of these guys for: everything is on the line, and they go out and get the job done."
Here's a look at Jacksonville's precarious path:
- Week 9 vs Las Vegas: Trailed 17-0 in the second quarter and won 27-20.
- Week 10 at Kansas City: Trailed 20-0 in the second and lost 27-17.
- Week 12 vs Baltimore: Trailed 19-10 in the fourth and won 28-27.
- Week 13 at Detroit: Trailed 20-3 in the second and lost 40-14.
- Week 14 at Tennessee: Trailed 14-7 in the first and won 36-22.
- Week 15 vs Dallas: Trailed 27-10 in the third and won 40-34 in overtime.
- Week 16 at New York Jets: Trailed 3-0 in the first and won 19-3.
- Week 18 vs Tennessee: Trailed 10-0 in the second and won 20-16.
It's a contrast to earlier in the season when Jacksonville lost four games - at Washington, at Philadelphia, at Indianapolis and against Denver in London - after leading by eight points, 14 points, 11 points and 10 points, respectively.
"You're never out of it, and I think that's the one lesson that we've all learned," Lawrence said.
"When you believe and everybody believes, it's cool what you can accomplish."
Pederson's aggressiveness continues to pay dividends. His fourth-down play call against the Chargers late was a masterpiece, with running back Travis Etienne lined up in the backfield alongside tight ends Chris Manhertz and Luke Farrell. Etienne took the handoff, got to the edge and gained 25 yards to set up the winning field goal.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
Jacksonville could use a clean game. The Jags have committed 12 turnovers in their past five outings, including becoming the first in NFL history to win a playoff game with a minus-5 turnover ratio.
Riley Patterson has made 18 of his past 19 field goals, all since missing twice in a 10-point loss at Kansas City. His lone miss in the past two months came in windy and rainy conditions at the Jets in Week 16. He still made four others that day.
Chris Claybrooks had a punt ricochet off his helmet, an error that resulted in Jacksonville's fifth turnover of the first half and essentially handed the Chargers a field goal that put them up 27-0. It was a rare miscue for Claybrooks, who has been the team's best gunner all season.
Lawrence was bleeding from his left thumb but wrapped it up and carried on. It didn't prevent Lawrence from rallying the Jags or eating at a Waffle House with teammates after the game.
6 - number of consecutive losses to the Chiefs. Jacksonville's most recent win in the series came in 2009 and its most recent win at Arrowhead Stadium came in 2007.
Jacksonville, an 8 1/2-point underdog at Kansas City according to FanDuel Sportsbook, could use a strong start for a change.
AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl and https://twitter.com/AP-NFL
Updated January 16, 2023