The circumstances aren’t easy. That doesn’t mean the season is lost.
Mike Mularkey, in his first season as Jaguars’ head coach, has stressed as much this week, and because this is the NFL, he couldn’t be more right. One-and-three – even when it includes a pair of one-sided losses – doesn’t mean the season is over. Far from it.
It means answering tough questions. It might mean tweaking the lineup.
But as Mularkey and Jaguars players said all week as they prepared to play the Chicago Bears Sunday at EverBank Field, it doesn’t mean changing what you’re doing. It doesn’t mean you abandon what you believe in.
Fans don’t want to hear that. They want to hear about change, even in midstream. You can’t do that. Changing midstream means chaos and chaos doesn’t win in professional football.
So, as middle linebacker
You get to the game and you just, plain, play better.
You take little steps and work to make those little steps turn into big plays.
That’s where the Jaguars are right now, at 1-3. They’re at the stage when it’s time to look in the mirror and improve enough to outplay the guy in front of them. That’s a small thing and when everybody does it, it’s the biggest of things. As difficult as it to see sometimes, the NFL is a league where the difference between winning and losing is very small, even when it seems big.
Outplay the guy in front of you. Get a victory. Get to the bye week. Get something going.
That’s the Jaguars’ charge Sunday, and as they continue preparing to do that, here are 10 things they must do to beat the Bears:
1. Pressure Jay Cutler. He’s an easy guy to dislike, this Cutler fellow. He doesn’t smile a lot, and when he does, he sort of smirks. Whatever. He’s still really good, but if you pressure him, he’ll make mistakes. Do that.
2. Get a pass rush. Yeah, it’s cheating a bit to make this a second category, but the pass rush is enough of an issue to split it into two categories. The Jaguars have had two sacks in four games. That’s a very, very low number. The Jaguars aren’t going to be a blitz-based team. That means when guys get a chance to rush one-on-one they have to win that matchup.
3. Protect Gabbert. This has been easier said than done a lot this season, particularly last Sunday. Jacksonville allowed
4. Shut out the noise. Sure, this was on last week’s list. When you’re 1-3, this is going to be on the list. It means not listening to outside criticism. In tough times, teams have to focus on what they do well. There simply isn’t time for anything else.
5. Get separation. Part of the problem with the passing offense is the offensive line. Part of it is Gabbert at times is getting rid of the ball too fast. But as big an issue is that the receivers continue to struggle to get separation. That makes it difficult to throw downfield and has contributed to a whole lot of checkdowns from Gabbert.
8. Finish drives. The Jaguars have been able to put extended drives together this season. They have a few touchdowns on those drives, but as was the case in the third quarter against Cincinnati, too often they have turned into field goals. This season’s history tells us the Jaguars will move the ball. When they do, they must take advantage.
9. Protect the ball. This hasn’t been a problem for the Jaguars this season. Gabbert has been smart with the ball, and that will be necessary against the Bears. They feed off turnovers. Don’t let a barrage start.
10. Make a play. Mularkey has stressed it all week. Players must make plays in the NFL. That means someone doing something unexpected, a little better than perhaps was designed. It means breaking a tackle, making an improbable catch, picking up a fumble, returning a punt for a touchdown. The Jaguars haven’t had many game-turners. It’s time to get one. It’s the NFL. It’s time to do something to turn this thing around.