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Lawrence, Jags ready to run it back after late-season surge

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Jaguars Chiefs Football

Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence speaks with head coach Doug Pederson during the second half of Saturday's AFC divisional round game against the Kansas City Chiefs in Kansas City, Mo.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Trevor Lawrence signed jerseys, helmets and posters for teammates Monday before heading into the offseason.

He left his locker pretty much intact.

He’s ready to run it back.

Lawrence understands aspects will be a little different when the Jacksonville Jaguars return in three months, but the quarterback is confident they have the nucleus in place to be an annual playoff contender for years to come.

“We set a new standard and we’re not going to settle for anything less,” Lawrence said two days after a 27-20 loss at Kansas City. “Obviously there’s more out there for us, and we’re just excited to get that opportunity again.”

The Jaguars (10-9) closed the season by winning seven of their final nine games, highlighted by a six-game streak that included come-from-behind victories against Tennessee, Dallas and the Los Angeles Chargers.

They won the AFC South for the first time since 2017, matched a Super Bowl-era record by winning eight games as underdogs and engineered the third-largest playoff comeback in NFL history when they rallied from 27 points down to stun the Chargers in a wild-card game.

In doing so, they became the first team to win a playoff game after having the worst record the previous season.

The run few could have seen coming ended against the top-seeded Chiefs, but nonetheless convinced the Jaguars they’re on the verge of building something special.

“You feel like your window of opportunity is now, strike while the iron’s hot, so to speak,” coach Doug Pederson said. “And we’ve got to take advantage of that with the guys we have, with the free-agent process, the draft process coming up. We’ve got to hit on all those benchmarks and continue to improve the team.”

Giants Eagles Football

New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley tries to avoid Philadelphia Eagles safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson during the second half of Sunday's NFC divisional round game in Philadelphia.

Giants face decisions on Jones, Barkley

The New York Giants went to Buffalo to clean up the mess after the 2021 season, hiring general manager Joe Schoen and coach Brian Daboll away from the Bills.

Schoen transformed a franchise in a salary-cap mess into one that will have $54 million heading into free agency in March.

Daboll turned around a team that had five straight losing seasons and led it to a 9-7-1 record and a playoff victory.

Schoen noted Monday that the Giants were a good team despite not having the most talent in the league. Now he'll have to decide the futures of quarterback Daniel Jones and running back Saquon Barkley.

After the Giants declined to pick up his fifth-year option, Jones had a career year, throwing for 3,205 yards, 15 touchdowns and five interceptions. He also ran for 708 yards, a team record for a QB, and seven TDs.

Barkley finally recovered from an ACL injury in 2020 and rushed for 1,312 and 10 touchdowns, while catching 57 passes. Lawrence was a force in the middle of the defense with a team-high 7 1/2 sacks.

APTOPIX Cowboys 49ers Football

Dallas Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy pushes a cameraman away while walking off the field after Sunday's NFC divisional round playoff game against the San Francisco 49ers in Santa Clara, Calif.

McCarthy's stiff arm

Dallas Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy was photographed extending an arm into the lens of a TV cameraman while walking off the field after Sunday's playoff loss to the San Francisco 49ers.

The cameraman tweeted that he didn't think the coach pushed him, although the photograph made it appear he had. The cameraman said he met privately with McCarthy, who he said apologized.

Owner Jerry Jones said the latest divisional loss didn't change his mind about McCarthy being his coach. Questions about McCarthy's job security continue despite consecutive 12-win seasons that ended with playoff trips, including last week's postseason victory.

Pollard's future

Running back Tony Pollard, who emerged as the best playmaker on offense for the Dallas Cowboys this season, broke his left fibula against the San Francisco 49ers when he was tackled in the first half of Sunday's divisional round game.

He was on the final year of his rookie contract, and still will be rehabbing an injury that will require surgery when free agency opens in March. Pollard might be headed for the franchise tag.

Kicking quandary

Dallas Cowboys kicker Brett Maher is a free agent after setting an NFL record with four missed extra-point kicks in a wild card game win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He had one blocked against the San Francisco 49ers in the divisional round, but the kick looked as if it would have missed anyway. He finished the season by missing six of his last seven PATs.

It's easy to forget that Maher stabilized a shaky situation as a late add in training camp when a kicking competition flopped. Playoffs included, he was 31 of 34 on field goals (91%).

Receiver help

After getting blown out in a divisional round game against the Philadelphia Eagles, the New York Giants head into the offseason with one glaring need, starting at wide receiver.

The Giants don't have a No. 1 go-to guy and the late-season burden was carried by Darius Slayton, waiver-wire acquisition Isaiah Hodgins and punt returner Richie James.

Kenny Golladay, who had one TD catch in two unproductive seasons after signing a four-year, $72 million contract in 2021, could be cut. He has a $21.4 million cap hit in 2023, and releasing him would save $6.7 million.

New York also could use inside linebackers and another interior defensive lineman.

Bengals Bills Football

Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen takes a hit after making a pass against the Cincinnati Bengals during the first quarter of Sunday's AFC division round game in Orchard Park, N.Y.

Bills' injuries

Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen said he will not require surgery after spraining a ligament in his throwing elbow during a 20-17 loss at the New York Jets on Nov. 6. The injury initially altered his throwing motion but Allen said he felt fully recovered a few weeks ago.

Defensive tackle Jordan Poyer said he’ll require surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff, which led to him missing two games in December. With no risk to aggravate the injury, Phillips played in Buffalo’s final three games.

Safety Micah Hyde said he would have been cleared to play this weekend if the Bills had advanced to the AFC title game. Hyde returned to practice two weeks ago after being sidelined since Week 3, when he had surgery to repair a herniated disk.

Panthers' coach hunt

The Carolina Panthers interviewed former New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton for their coaching vacancy on Monday.

Panthers owner David Tepper has also interviewed Philadelphia Eagles offensive coordinator Shane Steichen, Buffalo Bills offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey, New York Giants offensive coordinator Mike Kafka, former Indianapolis Colts head coach Frank Reich, Denver Broncos defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero, former Detroit Lions and Colts head coach Jim Caldwell and Steve Wilks, who was the team’s interim head coach.

The 59-year-old Payton is drawing plenty of interest from NFL teams with head coaching openings. including the Denver Broncos. It’s unclear what type of draft pick compensation it would take to lure Payton from division rival New Orleans.

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