JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The Jacksonville Jaguars loss to the Detroit Lions on Sunday was Trevor Lawrence‘s 22nd loss as a starting quarterback.
And it wasn’t pretty, either.
The offense struggled to sustain drives, converted only three third downs, and receivers dropped five passes. Defensively, the Jaguars allowed the Lions to score on their first eight possessions and roll up 437 yards, the second-most they’ve allowed all season.
“We’ve lost eight games this year, and never have I felt like we got embarrassed like we did today,” Lawrence said after the 40-14 loss at Ford Field. “That can’t happen. We’ve got more pride and work too hard to do that.”
Lawrence lost only four games in high school and at Clemson combined so it’d be natural to think his confidence could be waning.
But not only is Lawrence confident in himself and his team, the team is confident in Lawrence.
EVAN ENGRAM DOESN’T need to see the stat sheet to know Lawrence is playing at a high level this season. All he has to do is listen.
“Whether it’s calling the play in the huddle, whether it’s a conversation on the sideline about a specific play that just happened, the tone of the voice [is the giveaway],” the tight end said. “Like giving encouragement, picking guys up, moving on to the next play after a bad one. For me it’s all in the tone of the voice that tells me a lot about how a quarterback is feeling.”
What Engram has heard is backed by the numbers. Since November began, Lawrence is second in the NFL in completion percentage (71.9) and has a Total QBR of 69.9, which ranks seventh and better than Justin Herbert, Joe Burrow, Dak Prescott, Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers. He has thrown for 994 yards with seven touchdowns, and has a career-high streak of 139 consecutive passes without an interception. The Jaguars are 2-2 over the past month with come-from-behind victories over the Las Vegas Raiders (down 17-0) and Baltimore Ravens (TD pass and 2-point conversion pass with 14 seconds to play).
There are questions about whether he can become the Jaguars’ franchise quarterback and help turn around the league’s worst franchise over the past decade. But in addition to passing Engram’s ear test, it appears Lawrence may also be on his way to passing the eye test, too.
“I would say these last three games or so he’s really done a really nice job with our system and our offense,” Jaguars coach Doug Pederson said after the win against the Ravens. “He’s heading in the right direction.”
It hasn’t always looked that way.
IN HIS ROOKIE season, Lawrence dealt with dysfunction during Urban Meyer’s 11-month tenure as head coach. There were questionable coaching decisions, like having Lawrence rotating first-team reps with Gardner Minshew in camp and benching running back James Robinson multiple times for fumbling but telling everyone to ask running backs coach Bernie Parmalee why. He yelled at his assistant coaches, demeaned players and created an atmosphere of distrust inside the building.
None of that exactly provides a stable, nurturing atmosphere for anyone, let alone a rookie quarterback.
Lawrence started his rookie season 0-5 before leading the Jaguars to a come-from-behind victory over the Miami Dolphins in London. He finished the season with 12 touchdown passes, 17 interceptions and five lost fumbles — and more games with a passer rating of less than 40 (two) than games with a rating of more than 100 (one).
Last season took its toll on all the players — even the guy who tries to not let anything affect him.
“He’s not a real high, low emotional, panicky person just by his nature,” said Jeremy Lawrence, Trevor’s father. “[There were] a lot of things out of his control that were challenging, obviously, and he and I talked some about it, but it’s just something he’s got to work through and really not a whole lot you can do. Just focus on the things you can control.”
Lawrence has never publicly talked about what he and his teammates went through with Meyer and how it impacted his performance, but he did say the 2021 season did challenge his confidence at times.
“Honestly, there were times last year, where you start to question some things,” he said. “This game really tests you mentally, especially when you’re not having a great year as a team, as a player, as an offense, whatever that may be.
“Where do you get your confidence from? It can’t just be circumstantial. I’m playing well, so that’s why I’m confident. It’s got to be in something bigger than that.”
One of the biggest things Lawrence has learned from them is you can’t press as a quarterback. When things aren’t going well you can’t try to do too much. There are no 14-point throws.
“Last year there were times I did [press and not play within himself] and you leave the field after the game and you’re feeling like, ‘Man, that was awful.”
SOME GUYS FIGURE out that lesson quickly. Others may need multiple years to get it, and some guys never do. The expectation for a quarterback picked first overall is to immediately perform, which is illogical considering the circumstances.
If you’re the first pick in the draft you’re probably headed to a bad team and the team might have a new head coach. Eight of the 14 teams that selected quarterbacks first overall since 2000 had new head coaches.
It’s natural for those quarterbacks to struggle. But some of the players who went on to become Hall of Famers were awful in their first year or two.
Peyton Manning set an NFL rookie record with 28 interceptions in 1998. A year later he led the Colts to a 13-3 record, AFC East title and the first of 11 playoff appearances in 12 seasons.
Troy Aikman went 0-11 as a rookie with the Dallas Cowboys in 1989. It took him three seasons for him to throw more touchdown passes than interceptions. The Cowboys made the playoffs from 1991-96, a stretch that included three Super Bowl titles.
“My first year was pretty dysfunctional for that matter,” said Aikman, now an analyst on Monday Night Football. “I mean, it wasn’t a bed of roses with Jimmy [Johnson] and Jerry [Jones] coming in for the first year. We had a revolving door with players and it was hard. It’s hard to win like that and we didn’t.
However, there’s an even longer list of quarterbacks taken first overall that never developed into a franchise quarterback. David Carr went to the expansion Houston Texans in 2002 and was sacked an NFL-high 76 times as a rookie. He was the most-sacked quarterback in the NFL in three of his first four seasons and only lasted one more year with the Texans before being released.
More recent examples of No. 1 quarterback picks that didn’t plan out? Jameis Winston, drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2014, Jared Goff, by the Los Angeles Rams in 2016, and Baker Mayfield, by the Browns in 2018.
LAWRENCE HAS HAD some good moments this season, but some bad ones, too.
End zone interceptions against the Texans and Denver Broncos on the same play (a sprint out right) were alarming. Pederson said there’s only one read, and if that guy isn’t open air-mail the ball into the stands and go back to the huddle. Lawrence tried to fit the ball into the back of the end zone through a mass of defenders and the throws were picked.
The Jaguars lost those games by seven and four points, respectively. It’s not a stretch to say the Jaguars likely would have won had Lawrence not turned the ball over. Since that Broncos loss in London on Oct. 30. Lawrence has been a different quarterback. “He’s understanding our system better,” Pederson said. “We’re recycling plays a little bit more, so the verbiage and everything is sort of easier to spit out in the huddle than Week 1 or even in training camp. All of that really helps him in his growth and really his development, and it’s all starting to come together for him.”
Receiver Christian Kirk, who played with Kyler Murray in Arizona, said Lawrence’s fuller understanding of the system has made him and the rest of the offense more efficient.
“Oftentimes, younger quarterbacks, especially in a new system, the first couple weeks you’re just calling the play that’s called in the huddle,” Kirk said. “As you mature, and you look at some of the guys that are veterans that have been in a system for a while, if they don’t like the play that’s called, and based on the look when you break the huddle, they’re able to get to a play that they feel comfortable with and that they like, and more times than not, that play is going to be executed at a high level because that’s what they’re comfortable with. They can see it, and they can play fast.
“It’s one of the areas that I’ve seen from him that’s been really encouraging, just putting everybody out in the right spots to go out and succeed on that play.”
THEY ALL SAY the same thing about Lawrence.
No matter what’s happening on the field, no matter how he has played or the outcome of the game — Lawrence is right down the middle.
Coaches and teammates say his demeanor in the huddle, on the sidelines, in the meeting room and in the locker room is consistent. The way he carried himself after the Jaguars’ rout of the Rams in SoFi Stadium is the same as it was after their loss to the Broncos in London’s Wembley Stadium.
“I’m the same guy,” Lawrence said. “I’ve always been this guy. I haven’t always played my best every week, and that’s going to happen sometimes, but I really love the direction that this offense, this team, is heading and we feel really good about who we are.”
On Sunday against the Lions, Lawrence appeared to suffer a serious-looking left leg injury at the end of the first half. But he was checked out at halftime and returned for the Jaguars’ first possession of the second half.
Right tackle Jawaan Taylor was impressed by Lawrence’s demeanor and toughness after coming back into the game.
“Just playing with somebody like that, who is so resilient and how strong and tough he is — mentally tough — it just shows how great of a guy he is and how much he loves the game of football,” Taylor said. “So anytime you have the opportunity to play with somebody like that, you know you want to go hard for them.
“He’s a great leader and we’ll go for him any day we can.”
Lawrence’s even-keeled approach is an important part of why his confidence hasn’t been shaken by 22 losses and the ups and downs of the past 16 months.
“He’s dealt with adversity really well,” Engram said. “One thing I notice is he doesn’t lose that swagger and confidence about himself. I don’t think anybody has to worry about that with him.”
Kirk said he has played with quarterbacks in his career that have lost confidence and it’s pretty easy to tell.
“Confidence, it comes and goes, especially in the NFL,” Kirk said. “It can humble you. It’s happened to not only quarterbacks, but receivers, running backs, and everybody in this league. We’ve all been humbled at some point. It could be one play, one throw, one catch to kind of get that confidence back and be like, ‘You know, I’m a real guy in this league and I can play at the highest level.'”
Which is where Lawrence is sitting right now.
“I like the way I’ve been playing [the last several weeks],” he said. “There’s always things to improve on. There’s still a few plays every game that I could do better, whether it’s a missed throw, missed read, get through my progressions faster, protections, all that stuff. There’s always things I can improve on. There’s little things but I do feel really comfortable, really confident.”
Like a franchise quarterback.
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