JACKSONVILLE – The opportunity is at hand, and make no mistake:
However the Jaguars arrived at Week 18 of the 2023 NFL season, they absolutely enter the week of the regular-season finale with a special opportunity.
"We embrace it," Head Coach Doug Pederson said Monday.
The AFC South-leading Jaguars (9-7), who snapped a four-game losing streak with a 26-0 victory over the Carolina Panthers at EverBank Stadium Sunday, will play the Tennessee Titans (5-11) at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tenn., Sunday at 1 p.m. If the Jaguars win, they will win a second consecutive AFC South title.
If they lose, they cannot win the South – though they could make the playoffs as a wild card with a loss if the Baltimore Ravens beat the Pittsburgh Steelers Saturday and if the Denver Broncos lose to the Las Vegas Raiders Sunday at 4:25 p.m.
"We're just fortunate and blessed to be in this position at the end of the year," Pederson said. "It's always been our goal to be in the conversation and to play in these meaningful games this late in the year.
"We could've done better in a few games here recently and we wouldn't be in this situation, but we are. We own it, we're looking forward to the opportunity Sunday."
The Jaguars, after an 8-3 start, lost four consecutive games to teams .500 or better – 34-31 in overtime to the Cincinnati Bengals, 31-27 to the Cleveland Browns, 26-7 to the Baltimore Ravens and 30-12 to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Bengals were eliminated from the postseason Sunday, with the Browns and Ravens having clinched playoff appearances and the Buccaneers needing a victory in Week 18 to win the NFC North.
The Jaguars, after committing 10 turnovers and allowing 139.8 yards per game rushing during the four-game streak, did not commit a turnover Sunday and held the Panthers to 57 yards rushing.
"It can give a team a lot of confidence; it's what we needed," Pederson said. "We needed something to go right for us, and it did. It wasn't a pretty win; I don't think there's any win or any loss that's pretty or ugly. The fact that we got the win and the way we did it, I'm proud of the guys. It can definitely spark your team at this time."
The Jaguars also rushed for 155 yards against Carolina after rushing for 60 yards a game during the previous four games.
"Football is not a hard game, not a complicated game," Pederson said Monday. "Sometimes we as coaches and players complicate things a little bit too much. If you just focus on the basics – if you don't turn the ball over, don't have a lot of penalties or pre-snap penalties on offense, make open field tackles, you're in the right position, control the line of scrimmage on both sides, run the ball effectively enough in the game to control the game …
"Those are recipes for any football team. Obviously for ours and where we are, you can win games that way in this league. There are games when you're going to have to put the ball in the air 35-plus times –something like that – to win because there are teams that can score every time they touch the football.
"It's proof to our players if we take care of our business, then you have a chance to win games."
- Tyler Shatleystarted at left guard Sunday, with Pederson saying the move was to allow left tackle Walker Littleand left guard Ezra Cleveland"some rest" with the pair having played through injuries in recent weeks. Little, who has started seven games at left tackle and four at left guard this season, has played through a hamstring injury. Cleveland, who has started three games at left guard and one at left tackle, has played through a knee issue." Walker and Ezra were a little banged up," Pederson said. "Tyler has done a great job when he's in there. We didn't feel like there was any kind of let down or let up, let off, whatever you want to call it. We felt good. It was good for us as a team. We got through Sunday, now we can prepare this week and we'll see moving forward if it's Ezra back there or if it's Walker back there, or if it's Tyler. Really, the health of the guys is the biggest concern at this time."