Gene Frenette: With Trevor fever spreading, a Jaguars' blowout loss never felt so good

Gene Frenette
Florida Times-Union
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Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence (16) celebrates after the Tigers beat Notre Dame 34-10 in the ACC championship. The Jaguars sealed the No. 1 draft pick, placing them in prime position to add the quarterback in the 2021 NFL Draft.

By 4:15 p.m. Sunday, after the NFL’s lowest winning percentage franchise since 2010 absorbed a third consecutive blowout loss, a clear-blue sky and warm sun was still plenty visible over an emptied TIAA Bank Field.

Truthfully, for the long-suffering Jaguars’ fan base, that might turn out to be the most beautiful moment in their 26-year history.  

After their team was shellacked 41-17 by the Chicago Bears, and with the New York Jets securing a 23-16 victory over the Cleveland Browns about 20 minutes later, Jaguars’ fans could commence an outpouring of celebration in Jacksonville living rooms and across social media.

It’s not the equivalent of reaching or winning a Super Bowl, but locking up the No. 1 draft pick, and the likelihood of landing Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence with that coveted selection, does create legitimate hope of that eventually happening.

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At a time when owner Shad Khan is already in the process of hitting the reset button – having already interviewed at least three candidates to replace GM Dave Caldwell and expected to dismiss head coach Doug Marrone next week – the Jaguars now have one of the most appealing college quarterbacks in the last several decades in their sights.

“With the position of having the number one pick and all that [salary] cap space, this is attractive for any GM candidate,” said Fred Taylor, the Jaguars’ all-time leading rusher. “It’s going to be a lot of pressure on Trevor [if he becomes a Jaguar], but he’s the type of player that I’m sure he welcomes it.

“It’s an opportunity to change your franchise around the next 4-5 years if you land this kid.”

The excitement was palpable from a season-high 17,445 spectators, many of them wearing visiting team apparel, for different reasons. Of course, fans of Da Bears cheered vociferously on all five Chicago touchdowns, but most interesting was the lack of booing from Jaguars’ supporters once the game turned into a rout in the third quarter.

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No need to wonder why. For with every good thing that happened for the Bears -- and especially with the Jets being in control most of their game 932 miles away until late in the fourth quarter -- Jaguars’ fans inside at the stadium and scattered through all parts of northeast Florida couldn’t be faulted for rejoicing over their team’s 14th consecutive loss.

Not when the payoff for absorbing so much collective misery is the quarterback many people think could be the second coming of Peyton Manning.

“I just assumed it was all Bears fans,” said Jaguars’ quarterback Mike Glennon about the stadium-wide cheering for Chicago. “I couldn’t tell you who it was [cheering]. I understand the situation. Having played in Chicago, those fans travel really well and have a great fan base. So, I just thought it was all Chicago fans.”

Nope, on this day, everyone in the stadium was pretty much invested in the Jaguars losing. Not just for the sake of the Bears’ playoff hopes, but the home team’s prospects of a brighter future with Trevor.

Jaguars’ fans had never been this stoked with anticipation since midway through the fourth quarter of the 2017 AFC Championship game. All that anguish and lowered expectations since then (losing 35 of 46 games will do that), and a gift like this happens? How can beaten-down Jaguars’ loyalists not feel rejuvenated?

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For many of them, just the thought of Lawrence coming to Jacksonville makes suffering through this terrible COVID-19-plagued season worth it.

They have watched Doug Marrone’s team allow 464 points, a single-season record with one game remaining. They have endured a quarterback carousel of Gardner Minshew, to Jake Luton, to Glennon, back to Minshew, and then again Sunday to Glennon, without the results ever changing.

So, yes, when the Jaguars finally catch a break and find themselves four months away from drafting Lawrence as their franchise quarterback, a fan base is going to be rejoicing like New Year’s Eve is already here.

That’s the power of Trevor Lawrence. Right now, every sports memorabilia shop in northeast Florida can’t wait to put in orders for a No. 16 jersey. Every Jaguars’ sales person has surely got a hop in their step for what might transpire starting Monday: the post-Christmas gift of 2021 season-ticket buys spiking up.

Once the Bears put the game away on 6-yard touchdown runs by quarterback Mitch Tribusky and David Montgomery on their first two third-quarter possessions, it was just a matter of waiting to see if the Jets would close out their second victory, thus ensuring the Jaguars of their first No. 1 draft pick in history.

Unfortunately, for Jaguars’ players and coaches in the locker room, there is nothing to feel good about. They’ve now lost three games by a combined margin of 71 points, the most since allowing a combined 78 points to open the 2014 season against Philadelphia, Washington and Indianapolis.

Any thought of having Lawrence as their quarterback is no consolation prize, especially when about half of them are probably going to be employed somewhere else next season.

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For Marrone, who knows his four years as the Jaguars’ boss is probably about to expire, trying to muster up some enthusiasm among his staff and players for next week’s road finale against the Colts figures to be a monumental challenge.

“Like I told the team, I told them after the game ‘2020’s been s——,” said Marrone. “We all know that. I said, ‘but the way I look at it is we have ourselves a game starting in 2021, so let’s make this change. Let’s just change this thing.’ “

It’s almost inconceivable that the 1-14 Jaguars could send Marrone off a winner. None of his quarterbacks – Glennon, Gardner Minshew or Jake Luton – have played with any semblance of confidence. Plus, the Colts will need a win next week to get into the playoffs and quarterback Philip Rivers is probably still fuming over losing the season opener to the Jaguars. So the losing streak will likely carry over into the 2021 season.

But on the plus side, here’s what is already changing: the feeling everyone emotionally invested in this team has about the future.

Despite all the team needs at so many positions, just the thought of Clemson’s golden boy suiting up in black and teal is a game-changer for this franchise. Hope is almost here for the Jaguars. Suddenly, winning a Super Bowl doesn’t seem like such a fantasy. (904) 359-4540    

Jaguars quarterback Mike Glennon (2) looks for a target while under pressure during second quarter action.
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