Nobody had given up on Trevor Lawrence. But before the Jacksonville Jaguars' final game this season, Lawrence looked very little like the star he was touted to be.
Blame Urban Meyer or Lawrence's teammates or the Jaguars in general for a bad rookie season, but it has been a bad rookie season. He hadn't thrown for more than one touchdown in a game since the season opener. His passer rating for the 10 games before Sunday's finale was a ghastly 66. Not that the Jaguars were going to be panicked about Lawrence going into his second season, but it was nice to see him look like a star in a big game.
Lawrence had by far his best game right before heading into the offseason as the Jaguars shocked the NFL world with a 26-11 win over the Indianapolis Colts. If the game ended at halftime it would have been the best performance of Lawrence's season. In the first half Lawrence was 19-of-25 for 208 yards, a touchdown and no interceptions. He had a 113.4 passer rating.
The signature play of Lawrence's rookie season came in the second half. The shotgun snap wasn't fielded cleanly and flew in the air. By the time Lawrence gathered it, he had a rusher in his face. Lawrence used his mobility to escape outside, then lofted a great pass to Marvin Jones, who made a nice play to catch it and get both feet in bounds for the touchdown. That gave the Jaguars a 23-3 lead and practically put away the Colts, who needed to win to clinch a playoff spot. It was the type of play that we had waited a long time to see from Lawrence. Lawrence also clinched the win with a first-down run on fourth-and-2 just ahead of the two-minute warning.
This wasn't a good performance in some easy Week 18 game. The Colts, who were motivated to win, have a good defense. They ranked seventh in Football Outsiders' DVOA heading into the finale. Lawrence made some big-time plays against them.
This season has been rough for the Jaguars. When your fans show up in clown costumes for the season finale, it's a sign things have gone really bad. Even the hope of landing a potential superstar quarterback in Lawrence hadn't paid off before Sunday. Lawrence hadn't looked like anything special. All the Jaguars had was blind hope that Lawrence's pedigree would pay off next season with a better coaching staff and an offseason of offensive improvements.
The Jaguars can feel a lot better about the future after Sunday. Lawrence looked like the player everyone said he would be. The Jaguars got a win they can feel good about heading into the offseason. Whether the Jaguars brass is sharp enough to make the necessary moves to push the franchise forward is a big question, but at least their fans go to the offseason with some great feelings about the quarterback.
Here are the winners and losers from Week 18 of the NFL season:
Jimmy Garoppolo: If the San Francisco 49ers lost in regulation, we'd all be talking about Garoppolo's interception in the fourth quarter, which was an amazing play by Jalen Ramsey but a poor pass. Critics would point to that play causing the 49ers to miss the playoffs.
Instead, Garoppolo was the hero. He led an enormous 88-yard touchdown drive with less than two minutes remaining and no timeouts, then led a field goal drive in overtime and the 49ers beat the Los Angeles Rams 27-24. The 49ers are going to the playoffs (they'll face the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday in the wild-card round).
Garoppolo gets a lot of heat but he had a solid season. Nobody knows for sure what will happen after this season for Garoppolo. But his season isn't over yet.
Buffalo Bills, but not convincingly: All the way to the end, the Bills left everyone wanting more.
The Bills clinched the AFC East with a win, and they got that against the New York Jets. That’s the most important thing. But it also wasn’t the kind of performance that leads you to believe the Bills are peaking going into the playoffs, where they'll face the New England Patriots on Saturday night.
The Bills won 27-10 in a game that was 13-10 a few minutes into the fourth quarter. There was a real chance the Jets would win.
Buffalo started OK against the heavy-underdog Jets, with Stefon Diggs scoring an early touchdown, but then had trouble keeping anything going. With a lot on the line, the Bills had trouble putting a 4-12 Jets team away.
The Bills are in the playoffs and as a division champ they’ll host the Patriots. They have the talent to make a deep run. But most weeks this season, they haven’t looked like the type of team that can make a run to the Super Bowl.
Rob Gronkowski: Gronkowski made an extra million bucks Sunday. He deserved it.
Gronkowski had a huge day with seven catches for 137 yards in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 41-17 win over the Carolina Panthers. That helped push Gronkowski over a couple of contract incentives that were worth $500,000 each.
Gronkowski has had a great second act with the Bucs since coming out of retirement. He enters the playoffs as the Buccaneers best skill-position player along with Mike Evans. His importance to the Buccaneers increased with Chris Godwin's knee injury and Antonio Brown quitting on the team mid-game last week.
Gronkowski keeps showing he's not done, and he's a bit richer after Sunday due to the big finish of his impressive season.
Ryan Tannehill: The Tennessee Titans were in some trouble of pulling a Colts and losing a game they had no business losing with something important on the line.
The Houston Texans battled hard and had pulled within 21-18. Then Tannehill made a play that might have saved the No. 1 seed for the Titans.
Tannehill was wrapped up for a sack but somehow escaped and hit Nick Westbrook-Ikhine for a 36-yard gain. The Titans, who needed to win to get the top seed in the AFC, finished that drive with a touchdown. That was huge in a 28-25 win. Tannehill had 287 yards and four touchdowns.
The Titans have been doubted all season. But due to Sunday's win they are the No. 1 seed in the AFC, and Tannehill's clutch play was the biggest reason.
New York Giants: The Giants get in the winners section because they played for the past month like they couldn't wait for the season to be over (and that includes their coach and his ludicrous play-calling).
The Giants lost their season finale 22-7 to the Washington Football Team, ending an embarrassing stretch to the finish line. The Giants were the worst team in football over the past month and it isn't even an argument.
About the only good thing to say about the Giants' season is it's over. Everyone involved in the organization has looked like they've been counting down the days for a while.
Detroit Lions, though not in April: The Lions had a chance to wrap up the No. 1 overall pick of the draft. All they had to do was lose.
Always remember, tanking doesn't exist to players and coaches. All the Lions wanted was a win to finish their season. None of the players on the field cared about draft positions. And the Lions got that win, beating a Green Bay Packers team that got a half of play out of Aaron Rodgers and then played backups, knowing the No. 1 seed in the NFC was clinched a week ago. D'Andre Swift scored on a 14-yard run in the final two minutes to give Detroit a lead and two interceptions afterward helped seal the 37-30 win.
It's not the worst thing to lose out on the first pick this year. There's no Trevor Lawrence-level quarterback prospect in this draft. Winning to end the season is nice. Just remember it during the draft when the Lions aren't picking first.
Arizona Cardinals: The Cardinals' weird season continued Sunday, and their loss to the Seattle Seahawks was costly.
The Cardinals looked like they were out of their slump when they won at the Dallas Cowboys last week, but then tripped up with a 38-30 home loss to a Seahawks team that hadn't beaten a good team in a long time. The loss looked much worse when the Rams lost to the 49ers. Had the Cardinals won, they would have been NFC West champs and hosted a playoff game next week. The Rams backed into the division title with the Cards loss. The two teams will play each other in Los Angeles on Jan. 17 in the wild-card round.
The Cardinals are capable of winning some playoff games. But it's getting hard to figure them out.
New Orleans Saints: They did all they could, especially given their quarterback situation this season. But someone was going to get left out of the NFC wild-card picture at the end of Sunday's games.
The Saints looked good for a playoff spot as they were beating the Atlanta Falcons and the 49ers faced multiple deficits against the Rams. The Saints finished off a 30-20 win, but the 49ers' overtime victory knocked New Orleans out of the playoffs. Given all the adversity the Saints faced, it's surprising they made it as far as they did. Looking back, having to start rookie Ian Book at quarterback against the Miami Dolphins because their other quarterbacks were either injured or on the COVID-19 reserve list probably cost them a playoff spot.
The Saints probably weren't going to do much in the postseason. Taysom Hill suffered a Lisfranc injury, and presumably Trevor Siemian would have taken over as their quarterback in the playoffs. But it still would have been nice to get the spot.
New England Patriots: In the end it didn't matter that the Patriots lost. The Bills' win gave Buffalo the AFC East title. But the Bills were in a fight with the New York Jets into the fourth quarter and there was no guarantee they'd win. Had the Jets lost, the Patriots wouldn't have won the division title anyway.
The Miami Dolphins finished their season by sweeping the Patriots. They won 33-24. Miami went out to a 17-0 lead, with the key play being a pick-six by cornerback Xavien Howard off of Patriots rookie Mac Jones, and the Patriots were never really in it after that. It might not matter to the Patriots' hopes of making a postseason run that that they looked bad in the finale. But it's not the best sign, either.
Baltimore Ravens: For a while, the Ravens looked like they could get the No. 1 seed in the AFC. They didn't even make the playoffs.
Baltimore somehow had a chance to sneak into the postseason when the Colts lost to the Jaguars on Sunday. But the Ravens lost at home to the Pittsburgh Steelers in overtime. The Ravens got the ball first in overtime but couldn't get into Justin Tucker's field-goal range. Then Ben Roethlisberger led a drive that set up a field goal and a win, which helped get them in the playoffs.
The Ravens had a shot to get the ball back but Roethlisberger completed a fourth-down pass to Ray-Ray McCloud for a first down that also got the Steelers into field-goal range. A nice run to the outside by Najee Harris made the field goal much easier for Chris Boswell. He hit it to give the Steelers a 16-13 win.
The Ravens' late-season slump was understandable. They had many injuries including one to quarterback Lamar Jackson. It's just strange to see Baltimore, one of the NFL's most consistent franchises, have its season fall apart like it did.
Minnesota Vikings: Surely there are countless Vikings fans lamenting that the team waited until the final week, when nothing was on the line, to have a big second half.
The Vikings, already ousted from the playoff race, rallied from a 14-0 first-half deficit to win 31-17. It's nice to end on a win, but it's a reminder that Minnesota had much more promise than it ultimately showed in an 8-9 season.
There will be big questions coming up in the offseason, starting with coach Mike Zimmer and perhaps quarterback Kirk Cousins, too. Usually a win to finish the season would feel nice. This one felt pretty empty.
Cleveland Browns: Just like the Vikings, the Browns' win in the finale left a taste of what could have been.
The Browns, who were eliminated from playoff contention in Week 17, might be the most disappointing team to miss the playoffs. A 21-16 win over the Cincinnati Bengals, who rested players with a playoff game ahead next week, improved their record to 8-9.
After a playoff win last season, more was expected from the Browns. This season was a clear step back. The Browns could move in a positive direction next season, but it's an important offseason for them to get some things right.