Hays Carlyon's Jaguars Blog

AFC SOUTH CHAMPS: Defense carries Jags to win over Titans

todayJanuary 8, 2023


By Hays Carlyon


Saturday night was supposed to be a legacy game for Jaguars second-year quarterback Trevor Lawrence.

Instead, he was bailed out by a defensive and special teams effort that will be talked about for as long as the Jaguars are a franchise.

Lawrence and the offense stalled, but the defense forced massive turnovers and the special teams play was masterful in allowing the Jaguars to come from behind to defeat Tennessee 20-16 in the regular-season finale which decided the AFC South title at TIAA Bank Field.

“I think defense and special teams won this football game for us, and that’s OK,” Jaguars coach Doug Pederson said. “It’s OK. We found a way.”


These were anxious moments.

The Jaguars (9-8) entered the game on a four-game winning streak, while Tennessee (7-10) had lost six in a row.

The Jaguars were rescued from a disastrous loss. This stink of this defeat would have lingered for months.

Jaguars safety Rayshawn Jenkins wouldn’t let that happen.

Jenkins strip-sacked Tennessee quarterback Joshua Dobbs on a blitz from the blindside on third-and-6 from the Titans 35-yard line with 3:01 to play. The Titans led 16-13. The ball bounced directly to Jaguars outside linebacker Josh Allen, who returned it 37 yards for the game-winning touchdown.

There were some nervous moments waiting for the call to be confirmed since Dobbs’ arm moved forward shortly after he lost the ball.

“As a coach, you’re excited, but as a coach, you go, OK, it’s going to go to replay,” Pederson said. “Then when it was confirmed, it’s just — it’s the break we needed. We found a way. That was a great play. We needed it. We needed to find a way. The guys did it.”

Tennessee drove to midfield at the two-minute warning.

Ultimately, on fourth-and-13 from their own 47, the Titans were turned over on downs.

The electric crowd of 70,050 erupted. The Titans only had one timeout left, allowing the Jaguars to burn the final 1:30.

What a glorious 90 seconds.

The Jaguars comeback was sparked by cornerback Tyson Campbell’s interception, which he returned 29 yards to the Tennessee 25.

The offense couldn’t move the ball, but Riley Patterson connected on a 36-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter.

The Jaguars gained 10 yards on their final three drives, needing a touchdown to take the lead. Lawrence and the offense simply couldn’t find a rhythm and were knocked back in the trenches.

Championship teams find a way. The Jaguars identity is Pederson and Lawrence consistently finding ways to move the ball.

A victory like this speaks volumes about the team being able to win with all facets.

The special teams were incredible. Punter Logan Cooke was spectacular, averaging 50.5 net yards on his four punts. He pinned the Titans inside their 10-yard line three times.

Return specialist Jamal Agnew broke a 54-yard kickoff return to midfield, which led to Lawrence throwing a 25-yard touchdown pass to receiver Christian Kirk.

The offense was flawed. This will not be a fun game to go review. The Jaguars gained 222 yards and only ran for 19 yards.

What will be fun is knowing the review will be in preparation for a home playoff game in the wild-card round. The game day and time is still to be determined.

Expect a motivated offense.

The defense and special teams bailed them out Saturday night.

That’s fine.

The important part is that the Jaguars are AFC South champions.

Winning in a variety of ways is a good thing.

“Defense bowed up,” Lawrence said. “We’re in it together, and it’s us. It’s all about everyone. It’s not about one specific guy, one side of the ball, but defense won us the game tonight. I think everybody saw that. Offensively we struggled at times, didn’t really get in a great rhythm. It was here and there we made some plays, but we’ve got to play better to give us a shot every week.”

What a night.

What a crowd.

“It was electric,” Pederson said. “It was what we were hoping for, and the crowd delivered. It was loud. They stayed until the end. I’m very proud of our fans. We’re going to need them again in a week or so. Just a great way to cap off the regular season. As we head into the postseason, we’re going to need them again, so let’s gear up and get ready. It was awesome.”

Don’t worry.

I’m sure Lawrence will have plenty of his own highlights in wins that clinch future AFC South crowns.

“I want it to be sustainable,” Pederson said. “I just don’t want to be like, OK, you were the 2022 champs and not in ’23. You want to be competing for this division every year. But it makes it special just because of the way these guys battled and kind of what they’ve been through in the last two years.”

The defense and special teams beat the Titans.

Lawrence is still the key in the Jaguars dominating this division for years to come.

He learned some lessons Saturday night, but luckily it didn’t cost the team.

(You can email Hays at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @HaysCarlyon).

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