JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — No matter what happens in the AFC South over the next three weeks, there’s little doubt the Jacksonville Jaguars are poised to be factors in the division — and maybe the conference — for years to come.
They have the coach. They have the quarterback. They have the chemistry. They have young talent that’s figuring out how to handle adversity and win close games — vital traits in a league in which games are often decided by one play or one possession.
The Jaguars (6-8) won for the fourth time in six games Sunday, the latest victory being one of the more memorable comebacks in franchise history.
Trevor Lawrence threw a career-high four touchdowns passes, three of them to Zay Jones, and Rayshawn Jenkins returned an interception 52 yards for a touchdown in overtime to give Jacksonville a 40-34 win over the playoff-bound Dallas Cowboys.
Jacksonville rallied from a 17-point deficit and overcame three turnovers to end an NFL-record, 20-game skid against NFC teams.
It’s the fifth notable losing streak broken this season for a team that had won a league-low four games combined over the past two years.
“It feels good to kind of prove ourselves,” veteran guard Tyler Shatley said. “That’s big time for us.”
Added receiver Christian Kirk: “We’re here to flip the script. This new regime … we’re all here for one common goal and to make this thing the way we want to make it.”
Winning the AFC South would be a huge next step in Jacksonville’s turnaround. The Jaguars play at the New York Jets (7-7) on Thursday night before finishing with division games against Houston (1-12-1) and tumbling Tennessee (7-7).
Win all three and they would return to the playoffs for the first time since 2017. Regardless of how it plays out, coach Doug Pederson has the foundation — Lawrence, most notably, has 14 TD passes and one interception in his past six games — for this to be the early stages of something more sustainable than the one-year flash Jacksonville experienced five years ago.
“It’s just having that confidence and knowing that we can do it,” Shatley said. “That’s how it was in ’17. You get a couple of wins and you’re like, ‘All right, we are a good team.’ We truly believe that this year and it’s starting to show.”
The Jaguars improved to 6-1 this season when scoring 24 or more points. They are 0-7 when scoring fewer than 24. Lawrence has been the key to getting those wins. He has accounted for 20 touchdowns and committed just four turnovers in the seven games in which Jacksonville scored at least 24 points.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
Jacksonville turned the ball over three times, including once early and once late. Fortunately for the Jaguars, Dallas only scored 10 points off the trio of takeaways.
Travis Etienne fumbled when he ran into guard Brandon Scherff’s backside during the team’s opening possession. Lawrence had the other two: an interception that ended his streak of consecutive passes without a pick at 204 and a fumble near the end of regulation. He rebounded nicely from both.
Jenkins had a career game against Dallas. The sixth-year pro finished with 18 tackles and two interceptions, including one he made a fantastic shoestring catch on before going untouched for the winning score. It was the first pick-6 of his football career at any level.
Jenkins became the first player in NFL history with at least 18 tackles and two picks in the same game, the kind of defensive performance that will go down in franchise history.
Slow starts have plagued the Jaguars in their past six games, but they’ve come from behind to win four of those. Nonetheless, the team would like to eliminate those early deficits moving forward.
Starting left tackle Cam Robinson will miss the rest of the season after tearing the meniscus in his right knee. Walker Little, a second-round draft pick in 2021, will replace him moving forward.
5 — number of losing streaks Jacksonville has ended in Pederson’s first season. The Jaguars snapped a 20-game skid in cross-conference games, an 18-game road skid, a 14-game road skid against AFC South opponents, an eight-game road skid at the Titans and a five-game road skid at the Chargers. Ending another — a nine-game slide to rival Houston — remains a possibility in two weeks.
Jacksonville can improve its chances of making the playoffs by beating the Jets. The season finale against Tennessee is shaping up to be a winner-take-all game for the division crown and the No. 4 seed in the AFC.
AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL
Mark Long, The Associated Press