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Jaguars vs. Buccaneers: Ten Things That Must Happen for a Jacksonville Win

10 Things - Week 16

JACKSONVILLE – This is no time for panic.

It's darned sure a time for urgency.

The Jaguars in recent weeks have played their way into that situation, with their game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium Sunday now having a decided must-win feel.

That wasn't the case the past few weeks, but consecutive losses to the Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens – all very good teams, from a very good AFC North playing very well right now – means the Jaguars may need to win Sunday to stay in first place in the AFC South.

The Jaguars (8-6), defending South champions, enter Week 16 tied with the Houston Texans and Indianapolis Colts atop the division. The Jaguars remain in first place with three regular-season games remaining because of tiebreaker advantages – their head-to-head sweep over the Colts and a better division record than the Texans.

The Colts and Texans each won last week, with the Colts visiting the Atlanta Falcons (6-8) Sunday and the Texans playing host to the Browns (9-5).

The Jaguars still control their postseason destiny. If they win their final three games, they will win the South no matter how the Colts and Texans fare. But unlike past weeks, their margin for error is essentially gone. They're not eliminated from anything with a loss, but a loss may take their fate out of their control.

The Jaguars need to start winning. And they need to start Sunday.

Here are 10 things they must do to do that:

  1. Get clean quarterback play. Quarterback Trevor Lawrence practiced for the first time this week Friday, but as of Friday afternoon he remains in concussion protocol. If he doesn't clear protocol by Saturday, Head Coach Doug Pederson said he won't travel to Tampa. C.J. Beathard could start in his place. No matter who starts, the priority at quarterback is clear: Play clean. Lawrence lost two fumbles in a loss to the Ravens Sunday. He also mismanaged a scoring opportunity at the end of the first half inside the Ravens five-yard line. Whoever plays quarterback, the Jaguars can't keep giving away points.
  2. Protect the quarterback. The Jaguars mostly have been solid here in recent weeks, at least until forced into late-game obvious passing situations. They must remain solid here no matter who plays quarterback.
  3. Reduce mistakes. The Jaguars' self-inflicted mistakes extend beyond quarterback and have contributed largely to the three-game losing streak. To repeat Pederson's seemingly weekly refrain, the Jaguars must stop beating themselves.
  4. Run. The Jaguars haven't done this effectively enough recently. It might be a stretch to think they will suddenly do so. They still need to do it. They have been at their best offensively when running back Travis Etienne Jr. has been able to score rushing touchdowns.
  5. Pressure Mayfield. Buccaneers quarterback Baker Mayfield is playing perhaps as well as he has in his NFL career. He had a perfect passer rating in a road victory over the Green Bay Packers last Sunday. A Jaguars pass rush that has been effective at times in recent weeks must pressure him out of that sort of game.
  6. Contain Mayfield. The Jaguars' defense allowed 97 rushing yards to Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson Sunday. Mayfield's not the same running threat as Jackson because no NFL quarterback is the same running threat as Jackson. But Mayfield does run well enough to be a factor.
  7. Contain Evans. There's only one Hall-of-Fame lock in Sunday's game. That's Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans. He's good enough you can play well and he'll still be effective. The challenge is not letting him take over the game and make the winning play at the key time.
  8. Stop the run. It's time for the Jaguars to get back to their identity. For much of the season, that has meant stopping the run to get opponents in difficult down-and-distance situations. The Buccaneers have won three consecutive games partially because they have run well during that stretch.
  9. Force turnovers. This is also about the Jaguars getting back to their identity. They remain one of the NFL's best defenses forcing takeaways. With Lawrence's status uncertain, and with wide receiver Christian Kirk out – and with wide receiver Zay Jones also likely unavailable – the offense could be challenged. A challenged offense needs short fields and opportunities created by defensive takeaways.
  10. Just win. The Jaguars in recent weeks have needed someone to step up and make meaningful plays when they matter to will themselves to win the game. That hasn't happened. If the Jaguars are to make the postseason, it must happen soon.

All goals lie ahead☝🏻 Swipe through practice photos as the Jaguars preparation for Week 16 and the final stretch of the season. The Jaguars kick off in Raymond James Stadium on Sunday at 4:05pm ET. 

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