Following Trevor Lawrence’s selection as the first overall pick in the 2021 NFL draft by the Jacksonville Jaguars, posters soon appeared throughout that city featuring the former Clemson quarterback in a not-so-subtle “messianic” profile with the caption, “First Pick Since Day One.”
NFL scouts and analysts anointed the Clemson star quarterback a ‘can’t miss, generational player,” and if the bottom-of-the-NFL barrel Jaguars regarded him as the second coming of Tom Brady, who could begrudge their need to believe.
In the previous four years, the franchise posted a league-low cumulative record of 15-56.
Lawrence’s arrival came with another harbinger of hope for the beleaguered city — the signing of Urban Meyer as head coach, who had two Division I national championships to his credit.
Any hope for a successful season soured with five straight opening losses that ultimately led to a 3-14 season. Lawrence floundered under a coach that seem to be in over his head while compounding his problems with callow choices both on-and-off the field. At the end of season, Jaguar management jettisoned Meyer leaving the franchise and Lawrence twisting in his turbulence. The first-year quarterback finished his season with a subpar passing rating of 77.3. Most NFL experts believed given the dumpster fire of Urban Meyer’s coaching tenure, the young quarterback, who knew nothing but success at Carterville High School in Georgia and at Clemson, would have to start at square one in his second year.
Step in Doug Peterson, hired as Jaguars head coach and quarterback whisperer for 2022. Under his guidance, the Jaguars have gone from Clark Kent pushover to Superman winning the AFC South division, and their Wild Card game. The latter in miraculous fashion, as they came from 27 points down to edge the Los Angeles Chargers, 31-30. And while Lawrence has been spotty throughout the year, (that never more evident in his team’s Wild Card win where he matched four first-half interceptions with 4 second half touchdown passes) Pederson has never lost faith in his quarterback, burnishing his reputation as a coach who knows how to the draw the best from his players.
Still, the 2022 season tested the young quarterback’s true believers. During a five-game losing skein that included losses to lowly Denver, Houston, and Indianapolis local fans and sport pundits, wondered out loud if Lawrence was proving a bust. His penchant for fumbles and interceptions made Jacksonville — on the rim of the bible belt — look as though it had worshipped a false idol.
But as the season played out with a winner-take-all game against rival, Tennessee Titans, the Jaguars prevailed, largely due to game-saving defensive heroics of cornerback Rayshawn Jenkins. Admitting that he could have played better, Lawrence said his performance left much to be desired. That same maddening propensity for mistakes manifested itself in spades in his bust-boon Wild Card win performance.
When the Jaguars meet high-flying Kansas City Chiefs in their upcoming AFC Divisional Playoff, there will be no room for dithering. Pederson will have to call on all his intuitive and coaching skills to coax from his quarterback a heroic, if not, transcendent performance his followers have expected from day one.