Trevor Lawrence's Rise to Stardom Could Have Major Impact on AFC Playoff Race

David KenyonFeatured Columnist IVDecember 20, 2022

JACKSONVILLE, FLORIDA - DECEMBER 18: Trevor Lawrence #16 of the Jacksonville Jaguars looks to pass against the Dallas Cowboys during the second half at TIAA Bank Field on December 18, 2022 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Courtney Culbreath/Getty Images)
Courtney Culbreath/Getty Images

When the Jacksonville Jaguars took Trevor Lawrence with the No. 1 pick of the 2021 NFL draft, the last month is what they envisioned.

During that span, Lawrence has catapulted the Jags from a major deficit in the AFC South to the edge of the playoff race. He's tallied a trio of 300-yard, three-touchdown performances while leading three fourth-quarter comebacks and also defeating a key division rival. He is the single most impactful reason that Jacksonville is winning games.

Lawrence's much-anticipated breakout stretch is here, and it might just result in an improbable postseason bid.

Four weeks ago, the Tennessee Titans held a commanding edge in the AFC South. At 7-3, they had a four-game lead over the 3-7 Jaguars, who had just lost their fifth straight game and were behind the reeling 4-6-1 Indianapolis Colts.

The Jaguars beat the Las Vegas Raiders to begin November, but the Raiders have struggled through most of this season. That result led more to criticism of Vegas than praise for Jacksonville.

But after an unsurprising loss to the Kansas City Chiefs and a bye week, the Jags' trajectory has done a complete 180. After three wins in their past four games, they're merely a game behind the Titans in the AFC South and quietly two back in the wild-card race.

Jacksonville's remaining schedule is favorable, with only the New York Jets, Houston Texans and Titans left to play. The Jags' path to the playoffs is firmly in their control.

That's largely a credit to Lawrence.

Lawrence opened this month-plus hot streak with 321 passing yards and three touchdowns in a stunning 28-27 win over the Baltimore Ravens. Jacksonville scored 18 points in the fourth quarter, recovering from a 19-10 deficit and sealing the victory with a touchdown and two-point conversion in the closing seconds.

Bally Sports @BallySports

JAGUARS BEAT THE RAVENS<br><br>Trevor Lawrence found Marvin Jones Jr. for a TD + 2-pt conversion and the WIN! 🔥<a href="https://twitter.com/NFL?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@NFL</a> | <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/DUUUVAL?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#DUUUVAL</a> <a href="https://t.co/5QsT0cJgIV">pic.twitter.com/5QsT0cJgIV</a>

They followed that up with an ugly loss against the Detroit Lions, but they responded with an emphatic win at Tennessee and comeback victory over the Dallas Cowboys. Lawrence accounted for 339-plus total yards and four touchdowns in both triumphs.

Those numbers only begin to tell the story, though.

Lawrence has settled into the quarterback-friendly offense that new head coach Doug Pederson installed this season. Stable coaching from Pederson has quickly minimized the potential long-term danger that then-Jaguars head coach Urban Meyer posed to Lawrence's development last year.

Smarter decisions have fueled Lawrence's ascent. Since the beginning of November, he leads the NFL with a 70.4 completion rate, per CBS Sports, and he has tossed only one interception in 223 attempts.

Lawrence is taking fewer risks compared to his frustrating rookie campaign. Pressure may still lead to mistakes, but he's more comfortable dealing with blitzes and has been clinical in clean pockets.

Plus, the Clemson product has regularly started to hit big passes on the move. Against the Cowboys, his 59-yard touchdown throw to Zay Jones kickstarted the 17-point comeback.


.<a href="https://twitter.com/Trevorlawrencee?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@TrevorLawrencee</a> 59-yard TOUCHDOWN strike to <a href="https://twitter.com/zayjones11?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@ZayJones11</a><br><br>📺: <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/DALvsJAX?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#DALvsJAX</a> on FOX<br>📱: Stream on NFL+ <a href="https://t.co/rZZZ8aG10V">https://t.co/rZZZ8aG10V</a> <a href="https://t.co/DAb2IoHs0O">pic.twitter.com/DAb2IoHs0O</a>

Because of his surge, the Jaguars are on the brink of stealing the AFC South from the Titans.

Tennessee has now lost four straight games, including its Week 14 letdown at home to Jacksonville. While the Titans also play the Texans, the upcoming Week 17 clash with the Cowboys is a bad matchup for a Tennessee offense that has cracked 20 points only twice since the Week 6 bye.

If the Jags at least match Tennessee during the next two weeks, they'll be headed for a winner-take-all showdown in the regular-season finale at home against the Titans.

Even if the Titans snap out of their extended slump, the Jags could impact the wild-card race, too. They could hand the Jets a crushing loss, practically eliminating them because of their disadvantages in tiebreakers.

The Jaguars can lose to Tennessee and still technically have a shot at a wild-card berth at 8-9. They'd remain in play if either the Miami Dolphins or Los Angeles Chargers lose out, the Jets fall to the Seattle Seahawks, the New England Patriots finish 1-2 (with a victory over Miami) and none of the Raiders, Cleveland Browns or Pittsburgh Steelers win out.

However, success for Jacksonville in 2022 will not be judged on whether a playoff trip happens. This season was all about adapting to a new coach, unlocking a better version of Lawrence and building around him.

Check, check and check.

Jacksonville isn't close to a finished product. Nearly every fourth-quarter lead still haunts seasoned fans who've endured late-game collapses throughout the franchise's history. Heck, the Jags squandered a handful of leads before Lawrence spurred this hot streak.

For the first time in a half-decade, though, the Jaguars have serious hope for the future.

They're a win over Houston away from defeating every AFC South opponent at least once, which hadn't happened since 2010. They're more competitive on a weekly basis, including against playoff-caliber teams. They're eager for the debut of suspended wideout Calvin Ridley, whom they acquired ahead of the trade deadline, in 2023.

And they have a young quarterback who is performing at the level of a legitimate star.

The future is bright in Jacksonville. Thanks to Lawrence's torrid month, that future might arrive a year early.