We're not going to "hard sell" this.
It's no time for cartwheels or backflips, and at 2-9, this isn't the time to get overly giddy over what's happened around Everbank Field these days. But . . .
Well, you knew a "but" was coming, and while it may not be time for overblown celebrations, within the context of this season, good things are happening. Three weeks ago, it might have seemed absurd, but the reality is suddenly the Jaguars have some momentum.
That's right, momentum.
As odd as it sounds at 2-9, because of a dramatically improved offense, improved quarterback play and improved play at receiver, the Jaguars have carved out some. They scored a season-high 37 points in a loss to Houston two weeks ago, then scored 24 points Sunday to beat Tennessee for their first victory of the season at Everbank Field.
There are things on which to build, and even though the postseason is out of reach, the Jaguars are playing for more than pride. They're playing to continue developing young players, many of whom could help form the core of the franchise moving forward.
And those young players? A lot of them are playing well, so while we won't hard sell it, the Jaguars have a very real chance to maintain real momentum Sunday, and that's a huge step forward in a pretty small amount of time.
With that in mind, here are 10 things the Jaguars must do to beat the Bills:
1. Run.The Jaguars didn't exactly set records last week, but they ran for 100 yards for the first time since Week 3 – not coincidentally, their last victory. The Jaguars don't have to run wild, but they do need the threat of the run. And Rashad Jennings needs to perform better. He'll start, so he'll get a chance to do just that.
2. Catch the ball.This was better last week than it had been much of the season. The Jaguars won for the first time since Week 3. It's not coincidental.
3. Protect Chad Henne.It's a theme every week, but particularly after the Jaguars allowed a season-high seven sacks last week. Head Coach Mike Mularkey said it was as much communication issues as it was one-on-one matchup issues. Henne has been good at making plays under pressure, but he'd be better with some of that pressure off.
4. Let Henne throw.There doesn't seem much chance this won't happen. Henne has thrown downfield in the last two weeks – not a ridiculous amount, but enough – and the result has been the Jaguars' best offense in recent memory. Keep that up.
5. Throw the ball to Cecil Shorts. He has a 50-yard-plus reception in each of the last three games and four this season. That's a franchise record. He has the hot hand, and by this time, it's no fluke. He's a playmaker and right now, it's time to keep him heavily involved.
- And while you're at it . . . **throw it to Justin Blackmon, too. If the Jaguars get nothing else out of this season it seems they have a chance to finish it feeling very, very good about the wide receiver position. Shorts has made huge plays all season; Blackmon has been more and more productive the last two weeks. Blackmon has been making important plays late in games, too, something he hadn't done the first nine games and that's an important sign of progress.
7. Get ahead early.The Bills aren't exactly a confident team, and there are signs of cracking. Wide receiver Stevie Johnson suggested after a loss to the Colts that quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick should call plays as opposed to Head Coach Chan Gailey, and though he clarified those statements later, such are the storylines around struggling teams. Keep the pressure on. Deepen the doubt.
8. Block Mario Williams.One of the most high-profile free agent signings of the offseason, he was signed to make Buffalo a playoff threat. While that hasn't happened, the former No. 1 overall selection in the draft by the Houston Texans has improved after a slow start and now has 8.5 sacks for the season.
9. Stop C.J. Spiller.The Jaguars did an admirable job on Titans running back Chris Johnson last week; Spiller may be as tough a task. The Lake Butler (Fla.) Union County product has had the best season of his three-year career, and has rushed for 830 yards through 11 games. He has averaged more than 7.5 yards a carry in two of the last three games, and like Johnson – he can score from anywhere. For the Jaguars to have a chance, they may need to limit Spiller as they did Johnson.
10. Rush the passer.The Jaguars have struggled here much of the season. On Wednesday, they acquired Jason Babin to help address a pass rush that has 13 sacks this season. You don't win in the NFL doing that. Not consistently, anyway. Babin should help, but whoever produces the statistic, the Jaguars need to bother the quarterback.