Little did he or anyone know it at the time, but Trevor Lawrence had the eventual AFC champions on the ropes in their house on Sept. 30. In front of a "Thursday Night Football" audience, Lawrence and the Jaguars led the Bengals 14-0 at halftime.
In a microcosm of both teams' seasons, the Bengals rallied in the second half, while the Jaguars were unable to preserve their lead. The game ended on Evan McPherson's 35-yard field goal as time expired, a foreshadowing of what was to come during the Bengals' run through the AFC playoffs. For the Jaguars, it was one of several painful losses en route to a 3-14 campaign.
"We had them," Lawrence recalled Wednesday night during an interview with CBS Sports NFL analyst Pete Prisco on CBS Sports HQ. "They kicked a last-second field goal to beat us. But just seeing their progression, one from last year to this year, but even from this whole season as it's gone on and how much better they've gotten every week. They got hot at the right time. They're playing really good football and it's been fun to watch."
It was a challenging rookie season for Lawrence, the No. 1 overall pick in last year's draft. The proverbial bottom fell out on the Jaguars when the team fired coach Urban Meyer after a 2-11 start. Jacksonville has replaced Meyer with Doug Pederson, who four years ago led the Eagles to the franchise's first Super Bowl victory.
"I really like him," Lawrence said of Pederson, who has previously enjoyed successful partnerships with Donovan McNabb, Alex Smith, Carson Wentz and Nick Foles. "I'm really excited. I'm really excited for the future. I've spoken with him a couple of times, really just impressed by who he is. I think, personality-wise, we're going to gel really well. I think we're pretty similar. Just knowing he played the position. He's an offensive guy. Really did a great job in Philly, especially early on. I was really impressed by that. We talked ball a little bit; really think we're on the same page.
"I'm excited to get back to work, learn this new system, start clicking with the guys and get ready for the season."
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Lawrence said that being able to consistently play at a high level while executing situational football were the biggest differences between college and the pros.
Consistency and playing situational football are two main differences between college and the pros. While he acknowledged that he could have done better at both, Lawrence did manage to have success at various points in the season. He helped lead Jacksonville to wins over three teams that finished with winning records. The Jaguars ended the season with a 26-11 win over the Colts that knocked Indianapolis out of playoff contention.
Individually, Lawrence finished as the Jaguars' second-leading rusher. He also finished with the 11th most passing yards of any rookie in NFL history, just behind Kyler Murray and Dak Prescott and just ahead of Jim Kelly and Matt Ryan.
Lawrence is hoping to use last year's trials and tribulations as a learning experience for the rest of his career. He is hoping that the 2022 Jaguars can mimic the success that Joe Burrow and the Bengals have enjoyed this season after Cincinnati won just four games during the 2020 campaign.
"It was tough. Definitely something you never expect going into your rookie year," Lawrence said of the 2021 season. "You get drafted and you're going to this new team and you expect everything to be great and have a good year and for everything to be smooth. That really wasn't the case for us. Little bit of adversity throughout the season and just learning how to deal with that.
"For me, just trying to be same guy every day. Try to be consistent, one for myself to keep me in the mental space I need to be in to do my best but also for my teammates. Trying to be that leader and be the same guy every day. I think that's really important. That was something that I learned a lot about this season. ... It's definitely going to help me moving forward and help our team. I'm excited to have a better season next year and use all those things that we learned from to make us better."