JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — The Jacksonville Jaguars looked lost at this time last year.
They had just wrapped up an 0-for-October skid in which they dropped five consecutive one-possession games. They were turning the ball over at an alarming rate and creating few, sometimes no, takeaways.
Trevor Lawrence and several teammates convened on the long plane ride back from London — hours after a 21-17 loss to Denver — and decided something needed to change. They essentially demanded more from everyone.
And they got it. The Jaguars (6-2) have won 14 of 19 games since that brutally honest meeting over the Atlantic Ocean, with three of the five losses coming against the Kansas City Chiefs.
They’ve won five in a row heading into their bye week — a perfect October a year after a winless one — and insist they still haven’t played a complete game or come remotely close to the offensive juggernaut they believe they can be in coach Doug Pederson’s second season. Simply put, they are certain their best football is ahead.
“I know everyone feels much better and we’re grateful for it,” running back Travis Etienne said. “We know what it feels like on the other side. We want to enjoy this moment, just kind of soak in it right now, but don’t get too stuck in the moment so we can still move forward.”
The Jaguars hope to carry over one important lesson from 2022: What happens in the first half of the season means little compared to the second half. Jacksonville got hot in November and December last year, won the AFC South and advanced to the divisional round of the playoffs before getting eliminated in Kansas City.
Receiver Christian Kirk recalled his last season in Arizona in 2021. The Cardinals started 7-0 and were 9-2 at their bye before losing four of their final five games. It’s a story he relayed to teammates this week.
“Still made the playoffs, but we weren’t playing great football and we were a first-round exit,” Kirk said. “So it doesn’t matter what you do in the first part of the season. It’s all about how you play when these games start getting more important.”
The Jags have several obvious areas of concern heading into the final two months of the regular season. They ranked 31st in the league with nine fumbles, including three by Lawrence and two by rookie running back Tank Bigsby, and are 23rd in red-zone scoring (47.6%).
They’re 22nd in third-down conversions (35.5%) and far from where they want to be in short-yardage success.
“It’s unacceptable,” Kirk said. “It’s something we've got to live with, but that was the first half of the season. That’s the cool thing about the bye week: you’re able to kind of reflect and take some time to really do some self-scouting and come back and you get a whole clean slate of a new opportunity.”
Jacksonville’s defense picked up the slack for much of the first half, holding opponents to 16.2 points during the winning streak and leading the NFL with 18 takeaways. But the unit ranks 23rd with 16 sacks, with nine of those by Josh Allen, and has dropped at least five would-be interceptions.
“We’re not the perfect defense, but we play well together and we play for each other,” Allen said.
The Jaguars open the second half of the season at home against San Francisco (5-3) on Nov. 12. They play four of their next six at EverBank Stadium, a chance to pull away in the division and potentially position themselves for a high playoff seed. It’s not a spot the small-market franchise has enjoyed in early November since 1999.
“It feels good. Winning brings a lot of happy faces here,” Allen said. “But we also know this isn’t end of it. We all know we put a target on our back, and people are going to go for that. For us, it’s how well can we play moving forward.”
And the Jags believe they have unlimited room for growth.
“Hopefully we’re saving our best ball for when it counts the most,” Kirk said. “I know the offense is going to have a little bit of a chip on our shoulder coming back off the bye and just showing what we can do because we’re still not there yet.
“But it is encouraging that we’re sitting here and we’ve only put together one complete game on offense on film. We’re going to look to find that again.”
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