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Trevor Lawrence will be great, but not anytime soon

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Trevor Lawrence is going to be a great NFL quarterback. But not anytime soon, and maybe not ever in Jacksonville.

Lawrence, the No. 1 draft pick and as certain a top pick as the NFL has seen in years, made his NFL debut on Sunday, and suffered his first regular-season loss ever. Like, ever — high school, college or pro.

Although there were highlights, the sad truth for Lawrence is this: He was swimming through teal-and-black sewage — no matter how good he looked, he was always going to get the old familiar Jaguar stink all over him.

Consider his very first series. Lawrence’s initial pass was tipped, but the play was nullified when Jacksonville got flagged for an illegal formation. His head coach Urban Meyer called a timeout — with less than a minute elapsed in the game — and when Lawrence took the next snap, his first official pass was straight into the Houston turf.

It would get both better and worse for Lawrence, who finished the game with three touchdowns but also three interceptions, 332 yards passing but also an ice-that-shoulder 51 attempts.

Here’s the good news: Lawrence’s arm strength and mechanics already are elite-level. He cycled through his receiver progressions and got rid of the ball in a heartbeat, both on tight patterns and deeper routes. His touchdowns were art; he threaded a 22-yarder to Chris Manhertz through a collapsing secondary, and he dropped a dime right into the arms of D.J. Chark from 41 yards out. Both were the kind of flex throws that foreshadow future heroics … if not necessarily future victories.

Here’s the bad news: Lawrence is tied to the Jaguars for the foreseeable future. Lawrence wasn’t going to win this game, not the way that Jacksonville’s secondary let Tyrod Taylor look like Tom Brady, but his offense didn’t exactly give a Clemson-in-2018 performance.

HOUSTON, TEXAS - SEPTEMBER 12: Trevor Lawrence #16 of the Jacksonville Jaguars reacts after the game against the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium on September 12, 2021 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TEXAS - SEPTEMBER 12: Trevor Lawrence #16 of the Jacksonville Jaguars reacts after the game against the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium on September 12, 2021 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)

Half a dozen drops killed or stalled drives. Multiple boneheaded penalties and panicked timeouts exposed either a lack of preparation or a lack of execution. The lack of a run game, and the nonexistent defense, forced Lawrence to throw far too many times. At the same time, Jacksonville’s flimsy offensive line didn’t give Lawrence time to deploy one of his best weapons: his ability to look off the defense and find an unexpected, uncovered receiver.

More bad news: Lawrence lacked his usual accuracy, flying passes high or behind and connecting on only 28 of those 51 attempts. And Houston — Houston! — confused him with enough deceptive coverages that he threw three ugly into-the-chest interceptions. Lawrence had a disturbing tendency to lock onto specific receivers, and in the NFL, even the Texans can sniff out that kind of single-minded approach. 

Lawrence is now another link in a long-running, dubious chain. Since 2002, no quarterback selected first overall — not Eli Manning, not Matthew Stafford, not Cam Newton, not Andrew Luck, not Jameis Winston, not Baker Mayfield, not Kyler Murray, not Joe Burrow, not half a dozen others — has won his debut game. (For the trivia night: the last quarterback to pull off the feat was David Carr in 2002.)

The stat makes logical sense: if you’re bad enough to earn the No. 1 pick via your record, the woes that plague your team aren’t going to be solved by a single player, no matter how transformative. The Jaguars have pieces — Chark had 86 yards receiving, and Jones 77 — but a better description might be “fragments.”

Houston was supposed to be Jacksonville’s gimme, with the Texans a franchise in disarray and widely deemed in the preseason as the worst in the NFL. But Jacksonville gave Houston exactly no trouble, and the opponents only ramp upward in difficulty from here. Denver awaits next week, with two surprisingly tough teams — Arizona and Cincinnati — to follow.

Lawrence will have plenty of highlight moments this season. But unless the team can coalesce around him, those highlights won’t translate into wins.

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Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @jaybusbee or contact him at jay.busbee@yahoo.com.

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