It was supposed to be a special night for the Jaguars.
They were on the verge of gaining the AFC’s No. 1 seed before the end of regulation on the same night they hosted Monday Night Football for the first time in a dozen years.
It didn’t matter that the Jaguars were a bit sluggish against the Bengals, because they appeared in control as they marched downfield with the game tied in the fourth quarter.
Trevor Lawrence really wanted to be in control after he got up in anger following a failed play. But Lawrence immediately fell back down, slammed his fists and tossed his helmet. He knew it wasn’t good, just like the thousands of Jaguars fans left in disbelief watching their franchise quarterback down in agony.
And just like that, Walker Little’s foot colliding with Lawrence’s ankle might have ended what was shaping to be a special year in Jacksonville. Little, the team’s left tackle, sustained a hamstring injury on the mishap, and speedy wideout Christian Kirk exited in the first quarter with a groin injury.
The Jaguars are now left wondering whether Lawrence’s injury will end his season. The Bengals are familiar with that pit of uncertainty. Joe Burrow stood on the sideline in Jacksonville with his throwing arm in a sling, as backup Jake Browning guided the Bengals to an upset 34–31 victory in overtime.
In Lawrence’s stead, backup C.J. Beathard was able to help the Jaguars (8–4) force overtime, but it wasn’t enough. The Jaguars aren’t the same without Lawrence, just like the Bengals without Burrow. But perhaps Jacksonville can take some solace in Browning helping Cincinnati remain in the playoff mix with a 6–6 record. Or for a better example, what Josh Dobbs did for the Vikings after Kirk Cousins tore his Achilles tendon.
Aaron Rodgers, Anthony Richardson, Deshaun Watson and Daniel Jones have also sustained season-ending injuries during a battered and bruised year for franchise quarterbacks. Justin Fields has missed a handful of games, and Kenny Pickett and Derek Carr could miss upcoming games due to the injuries they sustained Sunday.
Seconds after Lawrence was helped off the field by two trainers, kicker Brandon McManus missed a 48-yard field-goal attempt to keep the game tied 28–28. McManus later made a 40-yard field goal to eventually send the game into overtime. Browning was outstanding, going 32-of-37 for 354 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Ja’Marr Chase and Joe Mixon gave the Jaguars’ defense plenty of fits.
Hours earlier, the ESPN broadcast was breaking down the Jaguars’ odds of holding the AFC’s No. 1 seed with five games left in the regular season. They looked ahead to the possibility of the Jaguars defeating the Browns and Ravens in the next two weeks before ending the regular season against the Buccaneers, Panthers and Titans.
That was long before the Jaguars lost to the Bengals and were left waiting for clarity regarding Lawrence’s injury. Jacksonville can no longer afford to look ahead, not with Beathard in line to replace Lawrence.
Jacksonville was one of four teams that had brief control of the AFC’s No. 1 seed just last week. Without Lawrence, this race might come down to the Ravens, Dolphins and Chiefs. Perhaps now, even the AFC South is in doubt, with the Texans and Colts only a game behind the Jaguars.
Even if Lawrence only misses a few games, the Jaguars have a tough two-game stretch against the Browns and Ravens, as previously mentioned. Jacksonville would be thrilled about the possibility of staying afloat with Lawrence having a chance of returning before the end of the regular season. That would be the best outcome in this year of bad luck for starting quarterbacks.
If the worst outcome occurs for the Jaguars, they’ll fight because they have a Super Bowl-winning head coach in Doug Pederson. They’ll compete because of the many playmakers on both sides of the ball.
That’s the positive spin. But if there’s one thing we’ve learned about the unpredictable 2023 season is that every team has a shot at winning any given week with any starting quarterback. Tyson Bagent, Aidan O’Connell, Dorian Thompson-Robinson and Tommy DeVito have all won games this season.
There’s a chance for the Jaguars, but man, Monday night was supposed to be special in Jacksonville.