JACKSONVILLE – It is much too early in the season to talk about "must-win" games.
Those only come up when playoff berths are on the line or in the postseason.
After what happened last week in a 9-6 loss to the Tennessee Titans, the Jacksonville Jaguars (2-1) could sure use a winning result today against the New York Jets (1-2) in a 1:00 p.m. kickoff at TIAA Bank Field.
The Jags need this one in more ways than one: to get right and look like a Super Bowl-contending team again, to finish the first quarter of the season with a winning record, to finish a three-game homestand with a 2-1 mark…
All of that would be great for this football team to overcome an underwhelming performance a week ago and get right.
It is also an important result today considering what lies ahead over the next couple of weeks.
Next week, the Jaguars head to one of the most hostile environments in the NFL, Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, to face quarterback Patrick Mahomes and the red-hot Kansas City Chiefs (3-0). The week after, it is a trip to AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, to face the Dallas Cowboys (1-2). Two tough road games are on the horizon, so a win at home today to improve to 3-1 would take a little bit of the edge off those plane rides. A 2-2 record heading into those environments could make those games a crossroads as to how the 2018 season feels moving ahead.
First things first, though… The New York Jets, a team that knocked off the Jags last season.
Last season the Jets topped the Jaguars 23-20 in overtime at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. This was the game when Jets running back Bilal Powell ran for a 75-yard touchdown when he avoided a tackle from Telvin Smith, was not touched down and then sprinted the rest of the way. Elijah McGuire had a 69-yard rushing score for the Jets.
Jaguars Linebacker Paul Posluszny was called for unsportsmanlike conduct for the first time in his career. Myles Jack had an 81-yard fumble recovery return for a touchdown. The Jets won the game in overtime with 28 seconds remaining on a 41-yard field goal by Chandler Catanzaro.
It was just an all-around frustrating and weird day in New Jersey last October 1. Time to right that wrong and get back on track all at the same time.
Last week against the Titans the Jaguars offense struggled to find any consistency, only passing the 50-yard line twice in the game and never reaching the red zone. Quarterback Blake Bortles misfired on occasion, had a few balls tipped at the line of scrimmage and had receivers drop critical throws. The running game could not find any consistency with Leonard Fournette inactive (hamstring) and T.J. Yeldon playing through an ankle injury.
On defense the Jaguars held the Titans to nine points – which should be winning football – but in key moments late in the game they could not stop Marcus Mariota after he entered the game for Blaine Gabbert (concussion). Mariota's running ability flashed yet again against the Jaguars, and even playing with an injury to his throwing elbow he made short throws on the outside that kept the chains moving.
As defensive tackle Malik Jackson said in the locker room this week, it's time for a "reboot" for the Jaguars. What a good time to get one, a home game in September against a team that knocked the Jags off a year ago.
Jaguars Players to Watch
Here are J.P. Shadrick's key players to watch in today's game against the New York Jets:
· #27 RB Leonard Fournette: I feel like we have heard this one before. Does he get back on the field for the first time since the first half of Week 1? They showed they could play well without him against the Patriots, then they showed why they need him against the Titans. No. 27 needs to be on the field.
· #44 LB Myles Jack: Jack made a great heads-up play in the Jets game a year ago with a fumble return for a touchdown. The play-caller of a great defense is going up against a rookie quarterback for the New York Jets. Get everyone going and scare the heck out of this kid Sam Darnold.
· #55 DE Lerentee McCray: McCray is the special teams captain and is a core-four player – meaning he plays on all the units. He is also getting more time in the defensive rotation at end and has played well. Good, solid professional football player. There is a reason he was brought here in free agency a couple years ago, and it is showing. His impact might not flash in the stat sheet, but it is felt throughout this locker room.
· #60 RG A.J. Cann: Cann missed last week's game with a triceps injury and was replaced by third-year guard Chris Reed. Cann is coming off a great training camp and a solid first couple of weeks. His experience and strength matter for this offensive line. Can he get back on the field with only a week off?
· #91 DE Yannick Ngakoue: We list him every week in hopes that he will get home on a quarterback and start the climb back to the Pro Bowl. He made a great play for a tackle in the run game last week, but so far, zero sacks for a guy that some were calling a Defensive Player of the Year candidate. Ngakoue is a prideful, hungry football player that wants to prove he's the best pass rusher in the league. I'll keep putting his name on this list until we see it.