Nobody believes in the Jaguars, but it’s time to start

The team that's spent most of its existence as a punch line is starting to punch back. Hard.

Of all the cringeworthy locker room motivational techniques, “nobody believes in us” has to be the lamest, particularly when it’s employed by teams like the Kansas City Chiefs and Georgia Bulldogs. It’s a cheap shortcut to self-motivation, and it’s a slap in the face to teams that nobody really believes in … you know, like the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Of all the NFL’s 32 teams, no team gets dismissed, disregarded and disrespected quite like the Jaguars. They play in the AFC South, the “Is Pepsi OK?” of divisions, and they flounder even there. Since 2007, they have exactly one double-digit win season, two playoff appearances and three playoff victories. They’re the team shuffled off most frequently to NFL boarding school in Europe, the team that NFL execs sigh over and foist off to a random Thursday to meet the league’s everybody-gets-a-national-game mandate.

Here’s the thing, though: While the rest of the NFL world was pearl-clutching over Taylor Swift, throwing dirt on the Patriots, and trying to figure out if the Cowboys are finally legit, the Jaguars have quietly posted a 6-2 record, tied with the Chiefs and Dolphins at the top of the AFC. They now own the league's longest win streak at five games, too.

"The first half of the season, these first eight games, I think with all the travel, the Thursday game, in and out of hotels, things like that, the guys have handled it extremely well,” head coach Doug Pederson said after Sunday’s win over Pittsburgh. “Proud of the guys for that. Really proud to be 6-2 at the bye."

You’ve got to dig a bit to find the statistical evidence of the Jaguars’ offensive growth, but it’s there. Trevor Lawrence ranks in the top 10 in most major passing categories. Travis Etienne has more carries (151) than anyone in the league and more touchdowns (7) than anyone not named Raheem Mostert. Etienne’s 583 rushing yards are only six off the league lead, though it’s worth noting that the Jags haven’t yet had their bye week.

Beyond that, Jacksonville isn’t lighting up highlight shows with spectacular plays. Lawrence, Etienne and Christian Kirk don’t show up on lists like the NFL Next Gen Stats’ “Remarkable Rushes” or “Improbable Completions.” They just put in the work and get the job done, beating up the teams they’re supposed to beat up — you know, like the Jaguars themselves used to be.

Trevor Lawrence and the Jaguars are all smiles these days. (AP Photo/Matt Durisko)
Trevor Lawrence and the Jaguars are all smiles these days. (AP Photo/Matt Durisko)

You could trace the lineage of this current run of Jaguars success — there’s a phrase that doesn’t get much work — to the selection of Lawrence at No. 1 in 2021, or the hiring of Doug Pederson after the unceremonious and much-needed booting of Urban Meyer. But the hinge point for this team — really, for this entire franchise — came during last season’s wild-card round, when the Jaguars rallied from a 27-0 deficit to beat the Chargers.

That’s the kind of comeback that gets a team, a franchise, an entire city believing that more is possible. No longer were Jacksonville fans just a cavalcade of teal-and-black ‘90s holdovers who gathered in the stadium best known as the home of the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party. Now, Jags fans have themselves an identity, one not built (entirely) on a stadium with pools in it. That’s great news for this franchise, because a team that knows it can come from four possessions down is a team that’s never truly out of the game.

“We’re never out of it,” Lawrence said in the afterglow of that miraculous victory. “When you believe and everybody believes, it’s cool what you can accomplish.” He's carried that mindset over to this season, and it's resonating in Jacksonville like classic Van Halen.

The question for Jacksonville is how much of that gaudy 6-2 record is built on sand. The capstone win of the season to date is a 25-20 Week 5 victory over Buffalo, though that game was in London and the Bills appeared disheveled and jet-lagged. Beyond that, the Jags have gotten fat and happy feasting on underachievers like the Colts and Steelers, and have the good fortune of drawing the even worse NFC South as their cross-conference opponents.

Jacksonville lost in Week 2 to the Chiefs — no shame there, most teams do — which leaves only an unexpected 37-17 loss to Houston in Week 3 as the outlier. Outside of that debacle, Jacksonville’s defense hasn’t allowed more than 24 points in a game.

Pittsburgh’s George Pickens learned the hard way not to write off Jacksonville. He dismissed Jacksonville as “kind of a hope defense” earlier in the week, and the Jaguars took that personally. In winning 20-10, Jacksonville held Pittsburgh without a first down in the first half and 78 total yards rushing. Pickens had exactly one catch for 22 yards.

"When you give us bulletin board material like that, of course we're going to come out and really show you how we play this game," safety Rayshawn Jenkins said. "He's a young guy and hopefully he learns to not bark up the wrong tree.” Let that be a lesson, then.

The rest of the season breaks down favorably for Jacksonville, for the most part — a few legitimate playoff contenders (San Francisco, Cincinnati, Baltimore) and the remaining divisional and NFC South games. That’s more than just manageable; that’s a pathway for Jacksonville to win just its third division title of the millennium (and the second was last year).

The AFC is stacked this year, and the Jaguars will still have to prove that they’re ready to take the next step forward in the postseason. But as the Chargers can testify, it’s unwise to take the Lawrence-Pederson Jags for granted.