Jaguars beat Chargers after trailing 27-0 in AFC wild-card matchup

AP photo by Chris Carlson / Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence (16) leaps for a 2-point conversion during the second half of an AFC wild-card playoff game against the Los Angeles Chargers on Saturday in Jacksonville, Fla.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Trevor Lawrence's confidence somehow never wavered. Not after the first interception he threw. Or the second. Or the third. Or even the fourth.

The generational quarterback simply delivered a generational comeback.

The No. 1 overall pick in the 2021 draft followed four interceptions with four touchdown passes — one of the most improbable turnarounds in NFL postseason history — and rallied the Jacksonville Jaguars to a 31-30 victory over the Los Angeles Chargers in an AFC wild-card playoff game Saturday night.

Lawrence engineered the winning drive, highlighted by Travis Etienne's 25-yard run on a fourth-and-1 play, and put the Jaguars in position for Riley Patterson's 36-yard field goal on the final play. It capped a 27-point comeback, the largest in franchise history and the third largest in playoff history.

"You couldn't write a crazier script," Lawrence said. "We said in the locker room that's kind of how our season's going. We're never out of the fight. ... I'm kind of speechless, honestly, just to see what belief can do and to see when a team believes in each other what you can accomplish."

Patterson's kick barely stayed inside the right upright and set off a raucous celebration for a franchise that had won a combined four games over the previous two seasons before going 9-8 in the recently completed regular season and winning the AFC South Division to return to the playoffs for the first time in five years. The Jaguars won their sixth consecutive game and fifth straight at home — all five in comeback fashion.

Nonetheless, no one could have seen this one coming. Maybe not even Lawrence. But he was the steady hand in charge after a debacle of a first half. He finished 28-of-47 passing for 288 yards, a shocker considering the way he started.

Lawrence was downright dreadful to begin Jacksonville's first postseason test since losing the AFC title game in January 2018. He became the third quarterback in the Super Bowl era to throw four interceptions in the first half of a playoff game, joining Gary Danielson of the Detroit Lions and Craig Morton of the Denver Broncos.

Lawrence, though, bounced back as well as anyone in NFL history. Jacksonville's comeback goes down in postseason lore behind only the Buffalo Bills' 32-point rally against the Houston Oilers on Jan. 3, 1993 and the Indianapolis Cots' 28-point comeback against the Kansas City Chiefs on Jan. 4, 2014.

"I didn't have a choice," Lawrence said. "If we're going to win that game, digging ourselves a hole like that, you've got to score a lot of points. By doing that, your quarterback's got to play well. So I clearly didn't have much of a choice.

"These guys have sacrificed way too much for me to be the reason we lose an opportunity. That's what I was thinking about. I know I'm going to make the plays. I've just got to get back on track. The guys around me made plays. It's not just me."

The Jaguars, who also turned the ball over when a punt hit Chris Claybrook's helmet, became the first team to win a playoff game with a turnover differential of minus-five or worse. Teams with that turnover deficit had been 0-19 in the Super Bowl era.

Lawrence misfired early and often and started getting booed long before halftime. His confidence seemed shot. His swagger appeared gone. All the progress he made in his first season with coach Doug Pederson looked like it would be flushed in the team's finale.

But the second-year pro never gave up. He connected with Evan Engram, Marvin Jones, Zay Jones and Christian Kirk for touchdowns that increasingly raised the team's belief in its quarterback and its comeback.

Lawrence added one of the biggest plays when he jumped for a 2-point conversion that made it 30-28 with 5:25 to play, putting the Jaguars in position to win instead of tie.

Jacksonville's defense responded by sacking Justin Herbert and then forcing a punt. Lawrence took over from there, with a significant assist from Etienne and Peterson's bold play call.

"I feel like the running back, when it gets to that point of the game, you're supposed to be the closer," Etienne said. "Coach believed in me on that fourth-and-1, to give me the ball. I had to make something happen for my teammates."

Herbert threw for 273 yards and a touchdown without an interception, but the Chargers' offense was largely ineffective after a 62-yard touchdown drive that made it 24-0 midway through the second quarter. Los Angeles, coming off a 10-7 regular season, finished with 320 yards of offense and 18 first downs, having produced only three points on four second-half possessions.

"I needed to perform better," Herbert said. "I've got to give them more than three points in the second half, and so I feel horrible for the defense for the incredible effort they put up there today, but got to be better as a team."

Chargers coach Brandon Staley surely will be questioned for being too conservative — he opted to attempt a field goal on fourth-and-3 midway through the fourth quarter, and Cameron Dicker missed — and for not trying to run the ball more. The Chargers had 23 rushes for 69 yards, a 2.9-yard average, while Herbert threw 43 times.

"Anytime you're up 27-7 at halftime and you've got four takeaways, and you end up winning the takeaway margin (5-0), you know, it's it's going to be a killer," Staley said. "I'm hurting for everybody in that locker room. ... We just didn't finish the game."