It was the worst game of his professional career. On the biggest stage of his professional career.
Trevor Lawrence, number 16 for the Jacksonville Jaguars. Golden Boy. Drafted number one overall in the 2021 NFL draft. Destined for greatness. And he was terrible that night.
Here’s how the first quarter went (description courtesy ESPN): “Lawrence played the worst half of football of his NFL or college career in the first half. His first pass was intercepted, and he would go on to throw three more in the half, which made him the third quarterback in the Super Bowl era to throw four interceptions in the first half of a playoff game.” At one point, the number one draft pick had a passer rating of 0.0. The Jaguars were down 27 -7 at halftime with a total of five turnovers. The 70,000-person crowd at TIAA Bank Field was mostly silent.
Lawrence is notoriously cool on the field and off. He’s got the ideal head coach in Doug Pederson, who is experienced and patient and believes in his team. And in their ability to come back.
What happened next is the stuff of legends. Lawrence rallied the Jacksonville Jaguars to a 31-30 victory over the Los Angeles Chargers. Lawrence engineered the winning drive, highlighted by Travis Etienne’s 25-yard run on a fourth-and-1 play, and put the Jaguars in position for Riley Patterson’s 36-yard field goal on the final play. It capped a 27-point comeback, the largest in franchise history and the third largest in playoff history.
Most Jaguars fans watching the first half of the game were dismayed, not just for the team, but for Lawrence personally, who is a likeable and genuine player. Many thought his confidence would be shattered by the terrible first half. “It will be a long and awful off-season for him,” muttered one person watching the game.
But Lawrence and the Jaguars came out and played as though the first half never happened. They looked poised, confident, and tough on both sides of the ball.
Tony Dungy, ESPN commentator and Super Bowl-winning head coach, says that great teams and great coaches don’t make major strategy changes at halftime. Dungy says if you have a solid game plan, you stick to the plan. You may have to execute better, but you don’t need a new plan.
The same goes for business. If you have a bad week, a bad month, a bad quarter, it can be tempting to start making changes – anything to get some momentum going. “Strategy is all well and good, but I need to make a sale.”
You stop working your strategic prospect list and start talking with anyone who will take a meeting. You take on business that you know is outside your core competency. You consider hiring a staff member when your instincts are telling you no.
In our new book, Relentless: Leading through Performance, Relationships, and the Lessons of Sports, we talk about building excellence in teams by building a process of excellence. Start with a strong and simple “what” your team is trying to accomplish. In football, it might be “win the fourth quarter.” Each part of your team will have a single main focus that, when executed well, will make a difference in the game.
You’ll also need to provide a clear and disciplined process for the team to follow (we had the ‘what,’ so this is the ‘by how.’) In my experience, both in sports and in business, individuals start to fail when they lose focus. A good coach helps each person maintain their focus on the process and holds them accountable for executing the process each day.
Your employees need your strong support to stick to the process. It’s most important when they’re struggling, feeling like they’re losing. When you’re desperate (and the pre-2022 Jacksonville Jaguars know a lot about being desperate), you’re tempted to re-invent the how.
Strong teams develop game plans that make sense, for their skills, for their goals, and based on the market (or game) scenarios. If you trusted that the plan was good at the beginning of the game, then it’s probably still a good strategy. Focus on execution before making changes. There will be time to analyze and learn from what happened after the game.
Postscript: The Jacksonville Jaguars’ season ended on January 21 in Kansas City. But their ability to stick to the game plan under pressure means the 2023 season could be promising.
About the Author:
Rich Thompson, CEO of XPG Recruit, is an expert on staffing, human resources, training and leadership development. He is also a former All-Big Ten football player for the University of Wisconsin. XPG Recruit provides recruiting for staffing companies. The XPG Recruit Athlete division places former athletes into business careers and works closely with universities through its sister company, Podium X.