The Jacksonville Jaguars 2023 training camp has begun, and as the hype train for the reigning AFC South Champions hits full speed, it’s important to remember how we got here and the ride that was 2022.
From watching head coach Doug Pederson tell media about the “healing” that needed to take place as a result of Urban Meyer’s tenure, to a legendary comeback in the Wild Card round of the AFC playoffs against the Los Angeles Chargers, the 2022 Jags provided a level of entertainment many Jags’ fans had never witnessed.
Here’s how last season felt from a fan perspective. Or at least, this fan’s perspective.
Stage 1: It can’t be worse, right?
As OTAs and training camp led into a new era for the Jaguars, many fans I talked to had tempered expectations. We all knew of Doug Pederson’s Super Bowl-winning past, the potential of Trevor Lawrence that we saw very little of in the cluster(fill in the blank) that surrounded him under Bourbon Liar, and the new weapons in Christian Kirk, Zay Jones, and Evan Engram who very few NFL observers believed were true weapons.
With that said, the general feeling around town was things couldn’t get worse than what transpired in 2021. As long as Trevor threw more touchdowns than interceptions, there was reason for optimism. As long as the team won more than three games, there was reason for optimism. As long as the head coach didn’t kick the kicker, there was reason for optimism.
The bar was low at this time last year. Very low. Achieving success was simply not being the laughingstock of the NFL.
Stage 2: I’m not optimistic, you’re optimistic.
The Jaguars went 2-2 in the first quarter of the season. After losing a close one to the Washington Commanders to open the season, the Jags did the one thing they’ve been able to do the last several years: they beat the Indianapolis Colts at home. Actually, they crushed them … 24-0.
And then they did something unexpected. Something that went against lots of Jags’ history. They went to the West Coast and beat Justin Herbert and the LA Chargers soundly. I was at both the home game against Indy and at Sofi to see the upset in LA. The Indy game was cool. The Chargers game was kinda hard to believe.
I remember walking out of the stadium that day and hearing a Chargers’ fan tell me they looked forward to seeing us back in LA for the playoffs. I still wonder if that dude ever made it to Jacksonville last January.
The next week, to kick off October, the Jags blew an early lead against Philly in what was a sloppy, fumbly game. Nonetheless, it was competitive, and we had our opportunities. Optimism was alive and well – albeit cautiously.
Stage 3: Sucktoberfest
I’ll make this stage description brief – even though losing five games in October certainly didn’t feel like it.
Besides the Eagles, the Murderers’ Row that was the other four teams combined for a record of 21-44. The Jags were Jaggin, and any optimism that was there to start the season was shot to hell.
Stage 4: They’re throwin’ us a bone!
As the 2-6 Jags went down 17-0 to the Las Vegas Raiders at home, I remember the Bank starting to empty by halftime. Instead of hitting the Bud Zone for a mid-game beer, fans just kept walking to their cars. And rightfully so.
The Sucktoberfest seemed to have a lingering November hangover. Then, in the second half, the Jags showed a flash of what we would come accustomed to as the season went on – a dramatic comeback win.
The next three games were a rollercoaster: A respectable loss against Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs in Arrowhead. An even more dramatic come-from-behind win against Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens. And then an inexplicable blowout loss against the Detroit Lions that may have been the rock bottom point of Doug Pederson’s inaugural season in Jacksonville.
As rough as it was losing 14-40 to Jared Goff and company, diehard/delusional fans like myself had a glimmer of playoff hope if everything somehow broke the right way. And even if it didn’t, the Jaguars had shown us at least something in the middle of the year that wasn’t an entire month of losing.
Stage 5: Shock
From the Shaquille Quarterman hit on Derrick Henry that caused a fumble and helped turned the tides of years of losing in Tennessee, to another wild comeback victory at home against Dallas, the Jaguars built more drama in a month than we’d seen since their epic playoff run in 1996.
Jags fans aren’t used to nice things. At the same time the year prior, we were rocking clown noses. To be in a position to win the division and host a playoff game in the season finale against your hated rival (and at home!) – felt almost like someone in Hollywood was writing a script.
Stage 6: Elation
Those final two home games — a do-or-die victory over the Titans and a 27-0 comeback win against the favored Chargers that ended on a walk-off field goal – were absolute elation. The hype going into the week. The all-day tailgate scenes full of teal jello shots and endless circle-ups. Playing under the lights. The low of feeling like an unpredictable season would fall short of what it could be. The high of cheering our hearts out for a team that never, ever gave up. And yes, Trevor celebrating the third biggest comeback in playoff history at the most Jacksonville place ever, Waffle House.
As we look ahead to the 2023 football season, a stadium of the future, the idea of a vibrant downtown, and all that the Jags could potentially accomplish with Trevor Lawrence leading them, the magic that was 2022 helped fuel it all.
There’s a good chance the 2023 hype train could lead to many more years of hype trains, but it all started in 2022. A year fans will look back on as a fond memory of the team’s glory days. A year that was a rollercoaster ride and will be remembered through the lore of parking lot keg stands, shouts of “DUUUVAL!”, and the realization that, well, it was always the Jags.