Spoiler, underdog or longshot playing with house money, the Jacksonville Jaguars visit the Kansas City Chiefs on Saturday unconcerned about the label they are receiving from the football world.
“House money or our money, we’re here now,” Jaguars coach Doug Pederson said on Tuesday.
The fourth-seeded Jaguars (10-8) rallied from a 27-point deficit to beat the Los Angeles Chargers in the wild-card round and immediately recalibrated to prepare for the top-seeded Chiefs (14-3). The teams collide Saturday in the AFC divisional playoffs at Arrowhead Stadium in a high-stakes remake of their Nov. 13 meeting in the same location.
That 27-17 verdict went the Chiefs’ favor, and Kansas City went 7-1 the rest of the regular season to post the best record in the conference. Jacksonville also is 7-1 since that day, including the confidence-catapulting rally to down the Chargers.
“They’ve got a lot of phenomenal players on that defense and they’re playing faster,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said of what stands out about the Jaguars over the past two months.
A slow start for the Jaguars spelled doom in the earlier visit to Kansas City, one of eight games in their last 10 in which they didn’t score a first-quarter touchdown. The Chiefs put up 20 first-half points, dictating the game plan for Pederson the rest of the way. Jacksonville converted only 28.6 percent of its third-down chances, all but spiking any comeback bid.
“I try to block out the best I can with the team,” Pederson said Tuesday. “You just block out the noise, you block out the negativity, whether it’s lack of respect or whatever. What we’ve done down the stretch, regardless of the mishaps, we’re here.”
Quarterback Trevor Lawrence was limited Tuesday due to a toe injury he dealt with for the past six weeks. Lawrence had four interceptions in the first half against the Chargers. He wound up with four touchdown passes, three of them in the second half, and the Jaguars aim to keep piling up positives on Saturday.
“We earned the position we’re in; we’re here now,” Jacksonville wide receiver Zay Jones said. “There are four teams remaining (in the AFC playoffs), and we’re here now.”
The Chiefs were off last week but are 4-2 in divisional playoff games under Reid.
Piloted by All-Pro quarterback Patrick Mahomes, the Chiefs are accustomed to ending the regular season with a week off before shifting gears.
Mahomes, the MVP front-runner, tossed four of his 41 TD passes this season in the win over Jacksonville.
This is the fourth time in Mahomes’ five seasons as a starter that Kansas City dives into the playoffs after earning extra rest during the wild-card round. Last January, Mahomes ripped into the playoffs with five TD passes to sink the Pittsburgh Steelers in a wild-card game.
“You build up for this all season long,” Mahomes said. “They’re a fast, physical team. They’re a talented team, we knew that the first time. We know how much of a challenge it’s going to be for us.”
Considering the Jaguars’ 2-6 start, not many expected this January matchup. Jacksonville selected Lawrence No. 1 in 2021, hadn’t been to the playoffs since 2017 and went 10-39 combined the past three seasons.
“They fly around to the football,” Mahomes said of Jacksonville’s defense, which ranked 28th against the pass and 29th on third down. “We’re going to throw the ball down the field when we get opportunities to.”
Including regular-season bye weeks, Reid is 27-4 with two weeks to prepare for an opponent as a head coach. With Mahomes, Reid is 3-0 in divisional playoff games after a bye week.
“I’ll tell you, that’s the trick to it: to keep the balance to where the players stay sharp and coaches still can add a couple things into (the) mix and go from there,” Reid said.
Kansas City wouldn’t want to stare down Jacksonville’s offense without defensive end Frank Clark. Reid said Tuesday that Clark was limited with a groin injury but didn’t see any reason to fret about his gameday status. Wide receiver Mecole Hardman (pelvis) didn’t practice, but wide receiver Skyy Moore (hand) went through the full practice.
Pederson and Reid are more than familiar foes.
Pederson was a backup quarterback for the Packers when Reid worked in Green Bay as the quarterbacks coach under Mike Holmgren in 1998. When Reid was head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, Pederson joined his coaching staff. He was also offensive coordinator of the Chiefs from 2013-15 under Reid.
Pederson got his first shot at being a head coach with the Eagles, and he guided the franchise to its only Super Bowl title after the 2017 season.
In his first year with the Jaguars, he will try to bump past Reid on the way to another championship.
“It’s a great atmosphere,” Pederson said, looking ahead to Sunday in Kansas City. “We have to embrace it. No one expects us to do anything. So go play, have fun, enjoy the moment and let’s see what happens.”
–Field Level Media