JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Doug Pederson delivered a postgame message to his players after the Jacksonville Jaguars‘ 31-30 victory over the Los Angeles Chargers that touched a little on the game but was more focused on something he believes is much more important.
Faith and belief.
The Jaguars coach said those are the main reasons the team rallied from a 27-0 deficit to win the wild-card playoff contest and advanced to Saturday’s divisional game at the Kansas City Chiefs (4:30 p.m. ET, NBC).
“I’m proud of you for this reason,” Pederson said to the players in the locker room, which was posted via video clip by the Jaguars’ official Twitter account. “You have faith in yourselves. You have faith in each other. … Belief is about understanding that you can get it done, and then, it gets done. It just can’t happen, and then you have belief. That’s what faith is about, and you guys have it.”
— Jacksonville Jaguars (@Jaguars) January 15, 2023
The Jaguars have had to come from behind in five of their eight victories since November — including two 17-point deficits and the nearly four-touchdown deficit they faced on Saturday. They’ve done it so often they don’t flinch and have an unwavering belief they can do it again.
And that is mainly because of the culture Pederson has established — which has translated into wins. He was the perfect hire at the perfect time to rescue a franchise that has been one of the league’s worst over the past two decades. The last coach, Urban Meyer, left the team in disarray, but Pederson brought them together.
“We’re in this position right now because of him,” linebacker Josh Allen said. “Because of the guys that we brought in in free agency, but also just the type of vibe that he brings to us.”
THE JAGUARS HIRED Pederson on Feb. 3, 2022, 49 days after owner Shad Khan fired Meyer. The damage Meyer caused went beyond a 2-11 record.
He also lost the respect and trust of the locker room.
Players didn’t like that Meyer treated them the way he did his college players by using motivational tactics such as bringing in guest speakers, announcing winners and losers in practice drills and having multiple long meetings in the same day. The players also didn’t appreciate the inconsistency in Meyer’s demeanor or the fact he openly criticized players and assistant coaches in front of the team.
Players never knew what they were getting each day, weren’t confident in the game plans and resented the fact they weren’t being treated like adults.
That’s why Pederson’s top priority after assembling a staff was building trust with the players and helping them heal from the dysfunctional 2021 season.
He didn’t do anything unusual. He treated the players the same way he did during his five-year stint as the Philadelphia Eagles‘ head coach: with respect and like adults. He also made sure he was consistent with his message, demeanor and the way he treated them.
“I just wanted them, kind of the biggest thing was to get to know me,” Pederson said. “Really, not as the head coach but just as a guy, obviously in the head-coaching role, but just to see that how they could gain my trust was to be open and honest and transparent with them.
“You just slowly start gaining their trust. As we got into it, I think that’s when their tension maybe eased a little bit, and they got more comfortable with who I am and who I was at the time, and it just builds. It just builds from there.”
Offensive coordinator Press Taylor said Pederson and the staff don’t know the full extent of the dysfunction inside the organization, but it’s easy to see the way the players were treated in the previous regime had an impact because of the way they have responded to Pederson.
“You kind of see that still throughout the year of just the appreciation they have for things that we would say is just kind of a normal NFL offense, locker room, whatever,” said Taylor, who was also on Pederson’s staff in Philadelphia as quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator.
“…We’re going to treat you with respect, we’re going to value your opinion, we’re going to make you a part of this thing. … [Pederson] established kind of this two-way street of this is how we do things, and you can obviously appreciate being treated like that.”
THERE’S ONE WORD that comes up often when players talk about Pederson: consistency.
Pederson is the same person every day. No matter what happens in practice or meetings and especially in games, Pederson’s demeanor doesn’t change. There’s no better proof than what happened in October and then against the Chargers.
The Jaguars got off to a 2-1 start in September but went 0-for-October. All five losses were by one score, and when the month ended with a 21-17 loss to the Denver Broncos in London’s Wembley Stadium, the Jaguars were 2-6 and headed for another disappointing season.
Pederson’s demeanor didn’t change throughout any of the ups or downs this season.
“Cool, calm and collected,” said receiver/returner Jamal Agnew. “We started off hot, [he was the] same person: cool, collected. We lost five straight: cool, collected. He was like, ‘We’ve got to pick up the urgency, but he never changed who he was.”
After turning the season around by going 7-2 and winning the AFC South, the Jaguars’ first playoff game since 2017 got off to a terrible start. Quarterback Trevor Lawrence threw four interceptions and a punt bounced off Chris Claybrooks‘ helmet for another turnover — all in the first half — and the Jaguars fell behind 27-0.
But Lawrence completed 18 of 25 passes for 211 yards and three touchdowns in the second half (he had another TD pass just before halftime) and the Jaguars won on Riley Patterson‘s 36-yard field goal as time expired.
The cliché is teams adopt the personality of their head coach, and that appears to be the case with the Jaguars, because Lawrence said they wouldn’t have been able to pull off those five comebacks if they hadn’t stay as even-keeled as their coach.
“Consistency,” Lawrence said. “He’s the same person every day, whether we won or lost. We lost five in a row, we’ve won however many in a row, he’s the same way every day, and I think that’s something that we’ve all rallied behind and we’ve kind of adopted that as players.”
Pederson said he’s always tried to be consistent in how he handles the players, the day-to-day duties of being a head coach and the way he acts on the sideline during the craziness of the game. He was influenced by the coaches for which he played during his 10-year career as a backup quarterback.
One of them was Chiefs coach Andy Reid, who also hired Pederson to be his offensive coordinator in 2013 and will be on the opposite sideline on Saturday.
“He played, obviously, and he knows the kind of coaching he liked and didn’t like,” Reid said.
“And so within his own personality, he presents it in a friendly manner but demanding of the guys. I think that’s a positive. I was with him when he was a player and I’ve been with him as a coach. He’s got a good way about him.”
The Jaguars lost a Week 10 matchup against Reid in Kansas City, and they’re eager for the rematch.
The Jaguars’ biggest problem is finding a way to stop Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who is a leading candidate for the NFL MVP award and led the league in passing yards, passing touchdowns and Total QBR.
The team will need that faith and belief in themselves to stop Mahomes, who has thrown for 1,022 yards, seven touchdown passes and three interceptions and rushed for another touchdown in three career games against the Jaguars.
It seems nothing is out of reach for the Jaguars, though, as they trailed in nine of their past 10 games — including by double digits in six — but have won seven of those nine games.
“All those things that we went through, what they went through, has prepared us for moments like this,” Pederson said.