So, we come now to the third preseason game, and if it's not quite right to call it the "all-important third preseason game," it's usually a bit more important than the others.
It's important for the Jaguars, too.
Not whether they win or lose in Buffalo, of course. If you've been reading jaguars.com throughout this decidedly different 2011 preseason, you know victories and losses matter little before the start of the regular season. What's important for the Jaguars is maintaining momentum.
Because while the preseason might be viewed by outsiders as a relatively down-and-up affair so far – the down of a 35-point loss to New England, the up of a solid victory over Atlanta – the Jaguars view it as a time in which the graph generally has trended up. Not explosively, overwhelmingly up perhaps, although certainly up enough to give them an optimistic feeling after two weeks.
Now, the idea clearly is to maintain that upward trend.
That doesn't mean they have to beat the Bills, but it sure means seeing better play from the offensive line, and it means seeing the pressure that was generated last week by the defensive line continue. It means dropping fewer passes, and it means another solid defensive effort.
The regular season is 16 days away. The Jaguars have made strides during the past three and a half weeks, but there are more to be made. It's not imperative they beat Buffalo, but if they're going to continue the positive vibe that has grown in recent weeks, they want to play well.
Here are 10 storylines/things to watch for the Jaguars against the Bills:
1.Scoring a touchdown.The first-team offense hasn't done it, and neither has the second team. The Jaguars believe the offensive efficiency will increase once the starters play together more, but you don't want to come out of Week 3 of the preseason without an offensive touchdown.
2.Protecting the passer.One reason it has been difficult to gauge quarterbacks Blaine Gabbert and David Garrard is they have been under pressure. Too much pressure. There's time for this area to develop, but you need to see a cleaner pocket as the regular season approaches.
3.Sacking the quarterback.The d-line is pleased with the pressure on opposing quarterbacks, and few around the team believe the pass rush won't be improved. Still, this group is itching for a sack. Or more.
4.Getting a pick.They had an interception called back against New England, but good pressure should mean interception opportunities.
5.Stuffing the run.The Jaguars have done this so far in two preseason games. No reason to stop now.
6.Synching up the offense.With two quarterbacks, Garrard and Gabbert, getting time with the starting unit, there hasn't been time for either to really get in synch with the ones. That situation should be improved a bit after Saturday.
7.Getting Rashad reps.Maurice Jones-Drew won't play, and his backup Rashad Jennings, figures to get his most extensive action of the preseason. He doesn't need reps, but said this week he's still at the stage where he wants to take advantage of his opportunities.
8.Returning to fundamentals.Jaguars GM Gene Smith said this week left tackle Eugene Monroe needs to play better than he did against Atlanta. Smith said that means focusing on fundamentals. Expect Monroe to improve that area Saturday.
9.Establishing the receivers.Mike Thomas is established, and rookie Cecil Shorts is an up-and-comer. It's time for someone else – Jason Hill, Jarett Dillard or one of a slew of young receivers – to stand out from the crowd.
10.Getting a win.Not at the end of the game, necessarily, but when the starters come out of the game, you want to be ahead. It's a confidence-building thing, if nothing else.
Even if it's – you guessed it – only preseason.