This is it. Call it the last month of the season, the fourth quarter of the schedule or anything else you please, but for teams such as the Jaguars, it's do or die.
December is "hunt" time. This is the playoffs race month. With each win and loss the picture changes. Sunday, the Jaguars' 22-3 win over the clawless Chicago Bears breathed life back into the Jaguars' playoff chances.
The picture in Jacksonville is as fresh as a winter day in Green Bay, which is exactly where the Jaguars will be next Sunday. On the storied turf of Lambeau Field, in weather that will leave no doubt as to what time of the year it is, the Jaguars' season will rest.
Wanna go to the playoffs? Win. It's that simple, and it's likely to be that way for each of the final three weeks of the season, provided the Jaguars continue to win.
The question is, can this team make that kind of a run? Is it capable of catching fire in the final month?
"I believe in the guys we have here," tight end Kyle Brady said. "There's no one this year who's blown us out and made us feel inferior, including the Steelers, who are the best the AFC has to offer. They've played some pretty good teams this year and they said we're the toughest team they had to face all year."
Steelers linebacker James Farrior made that remark to Brady following the Jaguars' 17-16 loss to the Steelers a week ago. It was a loss that plunged a dagger into the Jaguars' hearts, and they admittedly needed time to recover, but they found a way to rebound for a season-saving win over the Bears.
Make no mistake, this is not a Bears team to be confused with the AFC's playoff contenders. It is a Bears team the Jaguars were heavily favored to beat, but the Jaguars didn't exactly score a lot of style points in dismissing the Chicago team. The Jaguars played OK. To win in Green Bay, however, they'll need to play a lot better.
So, if you're looking for indications the Jaguars might be ready to catch fire, you'll have to dig deep into the play-by-play from Sunday's game. The stats are lopsided, yes, but let's not forget that the Bears came into the game with the league's worst-ranked offense and the 27th-ranked run-defense.
Take the win. Don't look back. It is what it is. You only need look forward to next Sunday: the Jaguars and Packers in Lambeau Field. Are the Jaguars a playoff-caliber team? Yeah, if they beat the Packers.
That's what this time of year is all about. Analysis becomes futile. The final score gives us all the perspective we need. The good teams win, the bad teams lose. How's that?
"This is the last quarter of the season. Let's run the table," Brady said of the mind-set the Jaguars embraced last week, as coach Jack Del Rio attempted to rally his team from its loss to the Steelers.
"He said here are our goals when we started this whole endeavor. He showed us the last four (games) and said this is what we're left. Fate is in our hands," Brady said of Del Rio's presentation.
The question was put bluntly to Del Rio following the Jaguars' win over the Bears. Is your team poised to make a run at the playoffs, and why?
"I continue to talk about the work ethic; the way we dial in each week," Del Rio said. "The coaches are working their butts off and the players are doing the same. I just believe when you do that you give yourself a chance to win. I remain optimistic and it's because of the work ethic."
Sounds good. And here's something that sounds even better: We only have to wait six more days for the scoreboard's answer.