Jaguars’ fumble return TD late vs. Titans clinches AFC South

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The Jaguars completed their worst-to-first journey by beating the Tennessee Titans 20-16 Saturday night at TIAA Bank Field to win the AFC South and return to the playoffs for the first time since 2017.

The Jaguars (9-8), who finished last in the AFC South with a 3-14 record in 2021, are the No. 4 seed in the AFC and will play host to a playoff game against the No. 5 seed next weekend.

The Jaguars are now the fifth team since the 1970 merger to win their division the season after posting the league’s worst record. The last team to do it was the 2008 Miami Dolphins.

The Jaguars trailed nearly the entire game until safety Rayshawn Jenkins sacked Titans quarterback Josh Dobbs on a blitz and caused a fumble that linebacker Josh Allen returned 37 yards for the go-ahead touchdown with 2:51 to play.

This is the fourth division title in franchise history. The Jaguars won the AFC Central in 1998 and 1999 and the AFC South in 2017, which was the last time the franchise made the playoffs. This was the first time the Jaguars have swept the season series with the Titans since 2005.

Saturday’s victory over the Titans was Jacksonville’s fifth in a row, which makes the Jaguars the fifth team in NFL history to make the playoffs in the same season in which they had losing and winning streaks of five or more games. The Jaguars lost five consecutive games in October, but since then they’ve gone 7-2.

Things turned for the Jaguars after their 21-17 loss to the Denver Broncos in London’s Wembley Stadium on Oct. 30. Lawrence played badly that day — throwing two interceptions, including one in the end zone, and registering the third-worst passer rating of his career — and the Jaguars lost their fifth game in a row. Lawrence said the defeat “flipped a switch” for him and that he started playing with a chip on his shoulder.

From that point through Week 17, Lawrence has been one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, leading the league in completion percentage and ranking second in passer rating.

The Jaguars were the worst team in the NFL over the previous two seasons, going a combined 4-29 and having the No. 1 overall pick in the ensuing drafts, and they won a combined 15 games from 2018 to 2021. Jacksonville hired coach Urban Meyer after a 1-15 record in 2020, but his tenure lasted only 11 months because of the dysfunction he created inside the building .

The Jaguars were 2-11 under Meyer before he was fired and 1-3 with interim head coach Darrell Bevell to finish 3-14 in 2021. After a search that lasted more than a month, team owner Shad Khan picked former Super Bowl-winning coach Doug Pederson, who is making his fourth playoff appearance in his six seasons as a head coach.

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