The Kansas City Chiefs will host the Jacksonville Jaguars on Saturday to open the Divisional Round of the NFL playoffs. Though the Chiefs defeated Jacksonville 27-17 in Week 10, that might as well have been a lifetime ago.
Following that loss, the Jaguars won six of the remaining seven contests, earning the franchise’s first AFC South title since 2017. Then in last weekend’s Wild Card matchup against the Los Angeles Chargers, the Jaguars edged out a 31-30 victory.
Speaking before practice on Tuesday, Kansas City head coach Andy Reid praised his Jacksonville counterpart Doug Pederson, whom Reid coached as a Philadelphia Eagles quarterback and was the Chiefs’ offensive coordinator from 2013 through 2015.
“Their offense is executing very well,” Reid noted. “I think they’ve got a pretty good grasp of what Doug’s expecting from them.”
Reid is not surprised that his former disciple unlocked the potential of a roster that finished 2021 with a league-worst 3-14 record.
“He played, obviously,” he said of Pederson. “He knows the kind of coaching he liked — and didn’t like. So within his own personality, he presents it in a friendly manner — yet [is] demanding of the guys. I think that’s a positive. I was with him when he was a player, and I’ve been with him as a coach. He’s got a good way about him.”
Pederson’s Jaguars won Saturday’s game after trailing 27-0 — and after quarterback Trevor Lawrence had thrown four first-half interceptions. Reid — himself well experienced in dramatic playoff comebacks — expects the win to boost the team’s confidence.
“They should be,” said the head coach. ”[Lawrence] did a great job of not falling apart [and] making it happen. That doesn’t happen very often in this league. He did a nice job of that.”
Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes appreciates the difficulty of what Lawrence accomplished.
“When you throw four interceptions — especially in the first half,” the league’s passing leader explained to reporters, “if it’s your fault or not, that kind of can seep into your mind of what decisions am I going to make going forward. Do I protect it, or do I stay aggressive? He battled through. That’s the test of a competitor: whenever stuff’s not going your way, to still pull your team to find a way to win.”
To Mahomes, the fact that Jacksonville is in the playoffs after Kansas City put its season on the brink of failure makes the team a more dangerous opponent.
“We understand it’ll be a great challenge,” he said. “They have a great football team that’s been playing playoff football for over a month now. They understand what it takes to win. We have to go out there and do whatever we can — to do what we can to win.”
Though the attention is on Pederson and Lawrence, the Chiefs are not taking the Jaguars’ defense lightly, either.
“I’d say the same thing with [Jaguars defensive coordinator] Mike Caldwell’s defense,” said Reid. “They’ve got a lot of phenomenal players on that defense — and they’re playing faster than we saw them the last time. I think they’re just more comfortable overall — [and] the speed comes with that.”
Chiefs running back Jerick McKinnon concurred with his coach.
“The first time we played them, it was a real tough game,” the most recent AFC offensive player of the month recalled on Tuesday. “That was a physical game. They got after us really well — especially on special teams. On defense, it was a physical game [through] all four quarters up until the end.
“The thing now is you see them: they’re putting it together. They’re coming away with the close wins; they’re pulling them out and finding a way to win. That’s a good team that’s got a lot of momentum coming into the playoffs.”
Even when the teams played in November, Mahomes knew that Jacksonville could represent trouble in the playoffs.
“They’re a talented team,” he observed. “I knew that the first time we played them. You can see the talent that they had. They were flying around to the football. They made a few mistakes here and there — and that’s why we got the win the first time.
“We understand how good this football team is — and how much of a challenge it’s going to be for us to go out there and try to find a way to get a win. We’re trying to prepare ourselves the best way possible — [so] that we can find a way to win it on Saturday.”
Reid has cautioned his players — especially the rookies — not to take too much from the prior meeting.
“We’re a little different — and they’re a little different in some areas too,” he explained. “I think for the young guys, that was a good experience to play against them. They know the speed of the players that they are going to play against.
“But they’ve put a few more wrinkles in there — so you have to make sure that you get all that covered. Will it help you or hurt you? I’d say it probably helped. But again, I think those kids have really progressed and done a nice job.”
Reid thinks his former assistant might be recognized for the work he’s done with his new team.
“I imagine [Pederson’s] up for the coach of the year by his performance — and how he’s resurrected that program there,” he predicted. “That’s not an easy thing to do. He’s done it as well — or better — than anybody.”