It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas.
As such, we'll be taking the Christmas Vacation DVD along for the ride to Tennessee in sort of an homage to road trips past with my predecessor. Yes, those were heady, memorable days covering the Jaguars in the 1990s. Clark. Rusty. Cousin Eddie. VHS-compatible television in the hotel rooms.
We went after it hard in those days or we didn't go at all.
But as I thought of those days as I began writing this week's 10 Things to Beat the Opponent, Holiday Edition, it occurred to me perhaps there's another connection.
Those Jaguars teams my predecessor and I covered? They were good. Some of them were really, really good. There was an energy about the franchise, and more than energy, there was a constant sense – from 1995 until 1999, at least – of building toward something.
Each season, the team got better. Each season, it got closer. Each season, fans were excited.
Each season, there was hope.
Hope has become the theme around the Jaguars again, and while it may be hard to see from afar because of the 4-10 record and a couple of blowout losses in the last three weeks, if you're around the organization, it's easy to feel.
There's not a giddiness. Not yet. Four and 10 teams aren't giddy, nor should they be, but the more we learn about new-owner-to-be Shahid Khan – and the more you learn about his direction for the franchise – the easier it is to see giddiness ahead.
There is a focus now on finding the right coach, be that interim coach Mel Tucker, a big name from somewhere else or someone we don't know. And in a few weeks, there will be focus on free agency, and on the upcoming draft. Those things bring energy, and if the right decisions are made, they bring success. There are no guarantees when it comes to the future, but Khan is asking the right questions and seems to be listening to the right people.
That increases the likelihood of success, and that's a good start.
Not that Khan's content with the status quo for the final two games. He made it clear last weekend talking to players that the 41-14 loss to the Falcons was unacceptable, that winning was expected. Not next year. Now.
That's the right tone, and since Khan wants it to start this week, here are 10 Things the Jaguars Must Do to Beat Tennessee, and remember . . .
The little lights . . . they aren't twinkling.
1) Listen to the owner-to-be.Khan made it clear the Falcons loss wasn't acceptable, and made it clear that change needs to start now. He's a good guy. No tyrant-ness there. Still, it was pretty clear he wasn't kidding.
2) Fit the run early.The last three opponents have gashed the Jaguars pretty significantly early in games. Chris Johnson – who missed time in practice this week but is expected to play – has the ability to turn gashes into touchdowns. Don't let him.
3) Match the emotion.The Titans lost to the Colts last week and were embarrassed about it. They'll want to make up for it. There could be an early surge of emotion as they try to make up for it. Play big early and match that.
4) Run Maurice Jones-Drew.Not because he's close to the NFL rushing title, which he deserves. You do it because it's the best option, and because with remarkable consistency this season he has shown it works.
5) Protect Blaine Gabbert.The line has been good pass protecting in a lot of games this season and not-so-good in a few. Thursday against Atlanta was maybe the worst game of the season in that area. Gabbert has shown in recent weeks he can get the ball to receivers when he has time. Against Atlanta, he didn't. He needs to keep developing in the last two games. He can't do that on his back.
6) Get open.The sacks against Atlanta weren't all on the line. A large percentage were again on a receiving corps that just doesn't get open enough.
7) Be That Next Man.Yeah, the whole Next Man Up Thing is a bit of a cliché, but clichés are around in the NFL because they're true. The Jaguars are beat up. They need big performances from little-known players. Ashton Youboty? Kevin Rutland? Akwasi Owusu-Ansah? This is your moment. This is your stage. Take advantage of it.
8) Pressure the Titans' quarterback – whoever that may be.Matt Hasselbeck is beat up. Jake Locker is a rookie. The Jaguars' secondary is beat up, too. That's an equation that means the Jaguars need to pressure the Titans' passer – and that if they do, big plays for the defense could be the result.
9) Shut it all out.This applies to Gabbert, but everyone else on the Jaguars, too. Gabbert's getting criticized. People are saying the team shouldn't win, that it should play for a high draft choice. Listening to that does you no good. Shut it out. Play with confidence. Play to win.
10) Have a Happy Holidays.That plane ride home, and the events of the next day? Well, those things are just a whole lot more pleasant if you win. Lay it out and enjoy the results. And either way . . .