Don't believe everything you hear.
In fact, when it comes to the Jaguars' game against the Falcons Thursday, you're better off not believing a lot of what you hear, because a lot of what you hear will go something like this:
The Jaguars are better off not winning against the Falcons. It would be better to lose to the Falcons and improve draft positioning than to win a meaningless game.
Not that having an early selection in the draft is wrong, it's just not time for that yet. There are still three games remaining in the regular season. That's three games for the development of Jaguars rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert, but just as important, three games for the Jaguars to continue developing as a team.
If the Jaguars play well in the last three games, and Gabbert continues to show progress, suddenly you have momentum. You have a team and a young quarterback entering the offseason feeling good about itself.
That's not to be underestimated.
If the Jaguars play hot and cold the final three games, it will be a different feeling. It won't be a feeling from which you can't recover, but it sure won't be the same feeling or same momentum that could be gleaned from turning in a few more solid performances.
So, should the Jaguars win Thursday? Absolutely. The confidence this team can build during the rest of the season will have a carryover. If that confidence is built on Gabbert building confidence of his own so much the better – and so much the more important.
The core of a good team is in place here. It will improve with a year experience, and it will improve with the inevitable off-season acquisitions. That's true whether the Jaguars draft No. 5 or No. 15, so root for your team. Pull for them to win.
Worry about next off-season next off-season, and in this case, don't believe everything you hear.
And now, 10 things the Jaguars must do to beat the Falcons on Thursday:
1) Maintain momentum.The Jaguars didn't just get a victory against Tampa Bay. They got their biggest victory of the season and played well in all three phases. That hadn't happened all season. Time to keep it going.
2) Stand tall.Gabbert did it last week. It was a start. Time to do it again.
3) Throw downfield.This goes with standing tall. Gabbert hooked up with Marcedes Lewis on a deep ball Sunday, and narrowly missed Kassim Osgood on another. He also found Jarett Dillard with a nice seam route for a long gain. Again, it was a start. Again, time to do it again.
4) Run Maurice Jones-Drew. Duh.
5) Throw to Jones-Drew.Throw to him. Hand it to him. Do whatever you can to get him the ball. He's hot right now. He's good. He's confident. Gabbert has thrown three touchdown passes to Jones-Drew in the last two games. It's effective. Get him the ball however you can.
6) Pressure Matt Ryan.The Jaguars only sacked Josh Freeman twice last week, but they got a ton of pressure. That was particularly true of defensive end Jeremy Mincey, who had a dominant game against Donald Penn, one of the NFL's best left tackles. The Jaguars will need that same sort of game against Atlanta, particularly with injuries depleting the secondary.
7) Keep feeding Marcedes Lewis.The veteran tight end has improved in recent weeks. Not that it wasn't expected. He's too good and too dedicated to struggle for long, and he and Gabbert appear to be developing chemistry. Keep developing it.
*8) Keep Gabbert clean. *No matter the quarterback, the guy needs time. Keep giving it to him, and let him build on last week's performance.
9) Cover up.This will be the toughest task the Jaguars face Thursday. They're without Rashean Mathis, Derek Cox, Will Middleton and Chris Prosinski, and may be without Dwight Lowery – this against a team that features Roddy White and Julio Jones. The Falcons won't sympathize with the Jaguars' injury situation, so the Jaguars have to figure out a way to get the Falcons covered. Somehow. Some way.
10) Show pride.The Jaguars have done it all season, but in their last national-television appearance, things got out of hand around halftime in a 38-14 loss to San Diego. No way do the Jaguars want that to be the last impression they give the nation. Show pride. Show heart. That hasn't been a problem this season and it shouldn't be Thursday.