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QBs take center stage in Chargers, Jaguars wild-card showdown

Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence (16) looks to pass against Tennessee Titans defensive end DeMarcus Walker (95) during the second quarter of an NFL football regular season matchup AFC South division title game Saturday, Jan. 7, 2023 at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville. The Jacksonville Jaguars held off the Tennessee Titans 20-16. [Corey Perrine/Florida Times-Union]

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Credit: Corey Perrine/Florida Times-Union / USA TODAY NETWORK

One of the best young quarterbacks in the NFL will celebrate his playoff debut with a victory Saturday night when the Los Angeles Chargers visit the Jacksonville Jaguars in the AFC wild-card round.

Trevor Lawrence of the Jaguars and Justin Herbert of the Chargers participate in their initial postseason games with the winner moving on to a bigger stage in the divisional playoffs next weekend.

The fourth-seeded Jaguars (9-8) barged their way into the playoffs with five consecutive wins to end the season, including a 20-16 win over the Tennessee Titans last Saturday night. The fifth-seeded Chargers (10-7) received a wild-card berth to make the field for the first time since 2018.

Nobody expected to see Jacksonville in the postseason after the team went a combined 4-29 over the previous two seasons — which included 13 disastrous games under former coach Urban Meyer in 2021 — and then lost six of their first eight games this season.

But Lawrence, the No. 1 overall pick in the ’21 draft, made big strides while passing for 4,113 yards, 25 touchdowns and eight interceptions. And suddenly, the Jaguars are a hot club entering the postseason.

“We had to win a ton of games down the stretch,” Lawrence said. “We never lost faith or belief in ourselves. How we got here was just taking it one week at a time. To do what we’ve been able to do the past five games and give ourselves a chance, that’s really hard to do.”

Josh Allen’s go-ahead, 37-yard fumble return late in the fourth quarter represented the winning points against Tennessee during a contest in which Lawrence finished 20-for-32 passing for 212 yards and a touchdown.

The Jaguars only had 222 yards as a team, and were held to minus-1 in the final quarter but still got the clinching victory.

“You just find a way to win whatever it takes this time of year,” Lawrence said. “Games are going to be tight. Games are going to be close. You just have to find a way to win.”

Jacksonville is part of the postseason for just the second time in the past 15 campaigns and coach Doug Pederson is ready to see how Lawrence fares under the playoff spotlight.

“Now, Trevor gets his opportunity,” Pederson said. “It just goes to show how important that position is, as we know. We’re just fortunate and blessed to have Trevor as our guy leading this football team. Last week was a step for him, obviously. Now this is another step in that direction.”

The Chargers are hoping it is Herbert who takes that huge step forward.

Herbert, the sixth overall selection in 2020, passed for 4,739 yards, 25 touchdowns and 10 interceptions during his third straight solid campaign. He’s also looking to make some noise in the postseason.

“I’m excited for the opportunity of just being in the playoffs and getting a shot at whoever,” Herbert said. “The Jags, we have a lot of respect for them as an opponent, and it’s going to take a good week of practice and preparation.”

Chargers coach Brandon Staley expects Herbert to put on a show.

“He has always played his best when the stage is the biggest,” Staley said. “That is how his career has been in the NFL. In primetime, the big games he has had for the first three years, he has always risen to the occasion because that is the type of competitor that he is.”

The Chargers were bouncing up and down with a 6-6 mark before reeling off four straight wins to punch their playoff ticket. They lost 31-28 to the Denver Broncos in their regular-season finale on Sunday after having already secured a wild-card spot.

In Week 3, the Jaguars routed the host Chargers 38-10 with Lawrence passing for 262 yards and three touchdowns. Herbert threw for 297 yards, one touchdown and one pick.

Staley said that the contest from late September has nothing to do with Saturday’s game.

“They are a different team,” Staley said. “They have been through a lot since the game we played them. … We have a lot of respect for this football team.”

Chargers receiver Mike Williams (back) was injured against Denver and underwent an MRI exam. His injury was determined to be a bruise and he missed Tuesday’s walkthrough but Los Angeles expects him to be available for the game. Star pass rusher Joey Bosa (groin) also is expected to play.

For Jacksonville, kicker Riley Patterson (knee) and long snapper Ross Matiscik (back) both missed Tuesday’s practice.

–Field Level Media