A season of redemption in Jacksonville has come to the end, but the Jaguars showed a foundation for success in the years to come.
Coming off two straight seasons in which they ended up with the No. 1 overall pick, the Jaguars forged a mini-renaissance in 2022, winning the AFC South and a wild-card game before falling to the No. 1 seed Chiefs on Saturday.
"It's special what we were able to do," Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence told reporters following the 27-20 loss. "No one thought we should be here and we just kept believing. It's really cool. Really cool to be a part of. And it was special. Like I said, just the beginning. This year, obviously, was huge for this organization, for our city, just for our franchise moving forward. And it kind of sets the bar of who we're gonna be and what we're gonna do moving forward. That's the mindset. And we won't settle for less than that. We got a taste of it, being here, but there's more left."
That mindset was on display against Kansas City, just as it had shown up last weekend when the Jags overcame a 27-0 deficit against the Chargers to win -- or when the team had lost five in a row to fall to 2-6 at the end of October, only to storm back with a 7-2 finish and capture the division for the first time since 2017.
The Jaguars eventually proved to be outmatched against a Chiefs team that held a lead from its first possession until its last, but the Jaguars never allowed Kansas City a comfortable lead, and had things down to a three-point deficit early in the fourth quarter.
Lawrence went 24-of-39 passing for 217 yards, one touchdown and an interception. Rather than the highs and lows of Super Wild Card Weekend, where he responded to four first-half interceptions with four second-half TD throws, he played steady.
But as can be expected from a team still learning to win at a championship level, there were hiccups. Lawrence waited until Jacksonville's penultimate drive, down 10 and at midfield, to throw his lone interception -- and that pick was preceded by a more egregious fourth-quarter turnover when Jamal Agnew fumbled on the Chiefs' 9-yard line.
Those two gaffes proved the end of the Jaguars' season, but how they hung tough against the Chiefs throughout, and particularly how they responded to the game slipping away, could prove the beginning of Jacksonville's future.
There was 1:04 remaining and still a 10-point deficit when Jacksonville saw the ball again after Lawrence's interception. The second-year QB drove his team 37 yards in 39 seconds to set up a 48-yard Riley Patterson field goal that closed it to a one-score game. Although the ensuing onside kick ultimately failed, the quick drive to give Jacksonville a chance was the embodiment of the new Jags.
"I mean, they're disappointed," Jaguars head coach Doug Pederson said following the loss. "They're disappointed. With this game, it felt like an opportunity to at least tie the football game there late in the game, but I think they understand how good they can be, you know? Some of the same ugly mistakes that showed up in this game were the things that showed up earlier in the season, and those are the things we have to eliminate. Those are the things we have to move on from. In order to win against great football teams like the Chiefs are, you can't make those mistakes, so I think they're disappointed from that more than anything and just coming up a little short."
Having fallen short but advanced farther than most expected, the Jaguars enter an offseason with the mission of building on success rather than rebuilding completely. Whether they pursue improvement again through free agency, albeit with far less wiggle room than the $260 million spent in the first two days of last year's signing period, or focus on their core and look for gems in the draft, Pederson believes the Jaguars are on the doorstep of a winning era.
"I feel like we're close," Pederson said. "I mean, obviously, we got the right leader in Trevor. Feel really good about him, obviously. What he's done and how he's played this season. You know, it's a matter with the youth of the team, now these guys played a lot of football and they're going to learn from the good and the bad. It's something to really, I think, lean on as we head into the offseason. As we approach the offseason program in a couple of months, which is kind of crazy to say, but you know we're going to learn. I'm excited for the future of Jacksonville and working with (general manager) Trent (Baalke) and getting the right players in here. Whether it's free agency, whether it's the draft and continuing to build our roster."
His franchise QB agrees with him.
"This is more the beginning than it is the end of something," Lawrence declared. "This is just getting started for us. So we got a taste of it, and guys are already hungry to get this opportunity again."