"Jersey Boys" is one of my favorite Broadway shows, and it's ironic that Tommy DeVito became a household name this season. But as the Jacksonville Jaguars head to a different Broadway to play a must-win game against the Tennessee Titans, it was late December back in '23 that spelled doom for the Jaguars and set up the current situation.
With a 1-4 record in December, the Jags failed to lock up the division and lost any momentum they had going into the month. Despite an impressive effort against the lowly Panthers, the Jaguars will not win the game or the division, and they will not make the playoffs for three reasons.
Trevor Lawrence will play but he's not 100 percent
While Trevor Lawrence may walk like a man, he is not 100 percent so even though he'll suit up today, who knows how effective he will be? He is to be admired for playing through injury after injury but at some point, he HAS to get healthy.
C.J. Beathard is a competent backup but the term "competent backup" does not inspire much confidence in a "win and you're in" situation. And let's face it, injured or not, Lawrence has been mediocre at best. An injury to his throwing arm just compounds the issue.
2 Titans players are incentivized to show out vs. the Jaguars
Two of the Jaguars' old nemeses are back, and both have much to gain from exceptional performances. Let's start with Jaguar slayer Derrick Henry, who throws around Jaguar defenders like they're rag dolls. Throughout his career, King Henry has averaged 164 yards per game in December/January versus the Jags.
Henry is set to be a free agent and would love to finish the season on a strong note. Then there's DeAndre Hopkins: Seven receptions for 39 yards and two touchdowns. That slash line triggers $750,000 in bonuses for Hopkins. He will be another motivated player on offense for the Titans.
The Jaguars have crumbled down when the stakes are high this season
The Jaguars have folded like a lawn chair when they have played in the spotlight. After two dramatic victories to win the division and a playoff game last year, the Jaguars have regressed in the "big game" department. They couldn't get in the end zone versus the Chiefs in Week 2, a game that if won, would have set the tone for the rest of the year.
The Jags were then blown out at home by the San Francisco 49ers with a chance to prove they could compete with the elite of the NFL. They proceeded to lose on a Monday night at home to a backup quarterback. Similarly, they did not put up much of a fight at home against the Baltimore Ravens on a Sunday night. For whatever reason, lack of preparation, poor practice habits, or lack of coaching motivation, the Jaguars have not answered the bell in meaningful games. I cannot envision a sudden turnaround.
The 2023 season for the Jaguars has been riddled with "What-ifs." What if Kirk and Lawrence stayed healthy all year? What if Press Tayor was fired midseason? What if Trent Baalke and Doug Pederson had put their egos aside and bolstered both sides of the line instead of hoping "their guys" took steps forward? But when we look back at the 2023 season one thought comes to mind: As I recall, it ended much too soon.