May 28, 2024

NEW ORLEANS — New Orleans hasn’t exactly been the Big Easy for Trevor Lawrence.

The only two games he lost in his three-year career as Clemson’s starting quarterback came in the Caesars Superdome, and his second preseason game as a rookie with the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2021 also resulted in a loss. That’s one of the reasons he was so set on playing against the New Orleans Saints on Thursday night despite having a sprained left knee.

And that’s another reason the Jags’ 31-24 victory — in which Lawrence connected with Christian Kirk on the winning touchdown pass — was so rewarding.

“I’ve had a bad taste in my mouth every time I’ve left New Orleans, so it feels good to get a win here,” he said.

For Lawrence, the two College Football Playoff games he lost still sting: to LSU in the national championship game following the 2019 season and to Ohio State in a semifinal game the following season, which was the last game of his college career, leaving his record as a starter at 34-2.

Lawrence got his first victory in the Superdome only four days after suffering a sprained left knee late in the Jaguars’ 37-20 victory over Indianapolis. It didn’t look like he’d be able to play early in the week — head coach Doug Pederson said he thought on Monday that Lawrence wasn’t going to play — but Lawrence said his knee felt better as the week wore on. After moving well during a pregame warmup, he got the clearance to play.

Lawrence said he did have some pain in his knee, but he wasn’t wearing the brace at his postgame news conference and said he came through the game OK.

“It felt pretty good,” he said. “I was happy with it, and it didn’t bother me too much. Definitely didn’t set it back, so I’m really happy with it. That was the goal: Find a way to win the game and not set it back, and we’ll get 10 days now to recover and get ready for Pittsburgh.

“It went perfect, honestly, so that was really good.”

Lawrence threw for 204 yards and also ran for a career-high 63 yards on five carries. He was actually the game’s leading rusher, besting Alvin Kamara by 1 yard — which wasn’t exactly what anyone expected.

“It wasn’t the plan, but instincts kind of take over, and I’m glad that it was able to hold up and I was able to feel good enough to make those plays,” he said, referring to his knee.

Lawrence didn’t practice Monday, and backup quarterback C.J. Beathard took the majority of first-team reps in practice on Tuesday and Wednesday, which made what he did against the Saints even more impressive, Pederson said.

“This is a short week, and on Monday I would’ve told you that he was not playing in this football game,” he said. “But that’s not who Trevor is. Proud of his effort, the ability to escape the pocket [and] run. Fortunately they were straight-ahead runs. He didn’t have to cut too much.

“But a lot of gutsy performances out there, and his is probably the No. 1.”

Lawrence wasn’t the only former Clemson standout to pick up his first victory in the Superdome on Thursday night. Running back Travis Etienne Jr. — who ran for 53 yards and two touchdowns, making him the first player in franchise history to run for multiple TDs in three consecutive games — was 0-3. In addition to the two games he lost while playing with Lawrence at Clemson, he also lost to Alabama in a CFB semifinal game following the 2017 season.

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