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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — The Jacksonville Jaguars were one yard away from a victory on the field. Instead, they might be celebrating a win in April 2022.
Trevor Lawrence and the Jaguars fell just short in a 26-21 loss to Zach Wilson and the New York Jets on Sunday, stopped by a goal-line stand in a matchup of struggling squads jockeying for position at the top of next year's NFL draft.
A seventh straight loss dropped Jacksonville to 2-13 and kept the Jaguars in contention for the No. 1 pick for the second straight year. That's the silver lining in another lost season in which they also lost their coach. So is the way the Lawrence and the Jaguars played in this one.
“Even though we lost, I definitely feel the momentum is going in the right direction,” cornerback Shaquill Griffin said. "Going into the next two games, going into the offseason, that’s what we needed. Understand it’s been a long season. No one wants to go through so many losses. It’s tough, it’s painful, but we’re all going through it.
“You have to hang on that belief because this team, this organization is going to flip around. And I felt that today.”
After Eddy Pineiro’s 20-yard field goal gave the Jets (4-11) a five-point lead with 1:47 remaining, Lawrence and the Jaguars got the ball back — and had a chance to win.
“What was different about this one was ... so close,” said Lawrence, the No. 1 pick in April. “We’re 2 yards away. Obviously, we didn’t execute cleanly there at the end. A lot of stuff to learn from, but the way we put that drive together, the way we stayed on schedule, it was great.”
A 26-yard run by Lawrence got the ball to the 5-yard line. He followed with a 4-yard pass to Marvin Jones two plays later. Lawrence then spiked the ball and it became fourth-and-the-game.
But Lawrence’s pass to Jones fell incomplete — and the Jaguars were called for an illegal shift that the Jets declined.
“We just didn’t do a good job of lining up and communicating on the last play,” said Darrell Bevell, coaching his second game since replacing the fired Urban Meyer.
Griffin and the defense had confidence the Jaguars could pull off the victory.
“I can honestly say this game has been different,” Griffin said. "I was telling them watching Trevor and the offense drive down that field, I’m looking around at those faces, that faith, that belief and hope that ‘We really can do this.’
“That’s the part that I felt was missing for so long. Going to the game really knowing we can really win this. Knowing that this W can come to us. I saw that on everybody’s face. I can play with a team like that any day.”
The game marked the fourth matchup of rookie quarterbacks taken with the first two picks in the draft — and the No. 2 selection came out on top for the third time.
But this loss wasn't on just Lawrence by any means.
He finished 26 of 39 for 280 yards with no touchdowns for the fourth straight game, but also no interceptions for the second game in a row. Lawrence fumbled twice and lost one, but the other was recovered by offensive lineman Will Richardson for a TD.
“I was really proud of him today,” Bevell said of his QB. “I thought he did a really good job of managing the game. He took the checkdowns that were there. He took the shots that were there. That’s probably the thing that impressed me the most were the shot opportunities that he had, that he took those.”
Lawrence and Wilson found each other on the field after the game, two would-be franchise quarterbacks bearing the weight of losing organizations on their young shoulders.
"It was really just, 'Keep going,'" Wilson said of his conversation with Lawrence. "He did a great job. He’s going through the same thing I’m going through. We’re both learning. He put together a great drive right there. He’s improving every single week, just like I’m trying to.
“I told him we’ll stay in touch and I just hope the best for him.”
For the Jaguars, it was a glimmer of hope. Especially after Lawrence's four-interception game two weeks ago.
“Yeah, I felt really good,” Lawrence said. "I don’t know, just had a lot of confidence in our plan. I thought we had a great week of prep and really liked some of the stuff we had game planned. So that’s obviously part of it, but then just going out there and just being the person that got me here and playing my game.
“I think obviously besides some of the ball security issues — I’ve got to clean that up — I thought I played a pretty clean game. I was happy with it.”
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Dennis Waszak Jr., The Associated Press