Did you see Doug Pederson’s halftime interview with Kaylee Hartung on NBC Saturday night during Chargers-Jaguars? Pederson had just watched his team turn it over five times in the first 25 minutes of the game, leading to 20 Chargers points and a 27-7 halftime lead for L.A. Trevor Lawrence threw four picks. It was a tragicomedy of errors. Yet, Pederson had a vibe of don’t-worry-we’ll-be-fine with Hartung. “We just gotta keep chipping,” he said, talking like he was leaving his house and telling his wife, “Be right back. Gotta pick up a few groceries.”
“The demeanor you saw with me and Kaylee was the same demeanor I carried into the locker room with the team,” Pederson told me an hour after the game. “I was internally frustrated, obviously, with how we played. But I went in and told the team, ‘One play at a time. Chip away. Defense, you’re starting the second half—get us a stop. Offense, we gotta score every time we touch the ball.’ I knew we could get back into the football game.”
Isn’t that the way a coach should be when the sky is falling? Guys, the sky is not falling. We handed them 20 points. They didn’t hurt us in the first half—we hurt ourselves. It’s not happy talk. The Chargers’ average drive start on their first seven drives—when they produced all 27 points—was the Jags’ 42-. I mean, what team wouldn’t score a bunch of points when getting the ball in such great field position drive after drive?
“It was the strangest 27 points given up I think I’ve ever been a part of,” Pederson said. “It didn’t feel like we were out of the football game, which is crazy to say. That was just Trevor’s demeanor too, the whole offense. And the team felt that.”
Chip, chip, chip. Two late plays, a dumb foul by Joey Bosa and a nothing half from Justin Herbert (four drives, three points) decided this one. After Bosa got an unsportsmanlike penalty for slamming his helmet to the ground – frustrated with an official not calling a false start on a Jacksonville TD – with 5:25 left in the game, Pederson had the option of taking the 15 yards on the ensuing kickoff, or having the ball put at the Chargers’ one- for a two-point conversion try. It was 30-26. Going for two, if successful, would mean the Jags would need only a field goal to win; failing would mean Jacksonville would need a late TD.
Pederson said he would have kicked the PAT if Bosa didn’t incur the penalty. Going for two from 36 inches away made all the difference.
“Well,” Pederson said, “the thought process was a field goal wins the game. And so that’s what I decided to do. I was putting it in the players’ hands. Players wanted to go for it. They were excited. They felt like we had a great call. I felt that was kind of an easy decision to make.”
Lawrence reached over with the ball palmed in his right hand, and the ball easily crossed the plane of the goal line. Now it was 30-28.
Herbert, with a chance to put the game away, went sack, short completion, short completion, punt. Not good. Jacksonville got the ball at its 21- with 3:09 left and all three timeouts. The Jags got to the L.A. 41- and called time. Fourth-and-two-feet. Season on the line.
“I felt like we were a little too far for the field goal. Our season was coming down to basically 18 inches. We’re going for this and put it into the players’ hands. Phil Rauscher, my offensive line coach, came up with that play. Did a great job of design.”
The formation screamed quarterback sneak. Behind Lawrence, who was under center, was a three-man backfield: from the left, fleet back Travis Etienne, 252-pound tight end Luke Farrell, 260-pound tight end Chris Manhertz. At the snap, Lawrence could push forward and get backhoed forward by 512 pounds of tight end.
“Have you seen us QB-sneak this year?” Pederson said. “We’re not very good. I mean, we’re just not good.”
Rauscher’s idea against a heavy front was to signal sneak but to unleash Etienne around the end. And Lawrence handed it to Etienne and he swept right, and all he had to do was beat first-half hero Asante Samuel Jr., and he did. Etienne for 25. Easy field-goal range for Riley Patterson, and he snuck the 36-yard winner just inside the right upright. Ballgame.
“Last question,” I said to Pederson. “Where does this victory rank in your life?”
I knew what I wanted him to say. We’re a month away from the five-year anniversary of Pederson’s Super Bowl win in Philadelphia. But would this all-timer of a comeback be in the same league?
Pederson didn’t hesitate. “It’s second,” he said. “Right behind the Super Bowl.”