The Jaguars are headed west. Way, way west.
As they do, we've reached a point where there aren't many more ways to say what we've been saying pretty much all season, particularly for the last few weeks.
We'll still do "10 things" this morning, because that's what we do two days before the Jaguars play, but the one overriding fact around the Jaguars is they absolutely, clearly, without question have reached the critical time in their season.
Must win? We won't say that, because in the NFL that's a cliché and way too easy, but at the same time it's hard to picture a way to recover from a 1-5 start. You can easily say that it's hard to recover from 1-4 start, and you would be right, but even without considering the records, this is a critical game for this team.
That's because the Jaguars ought to have a real chance to win.
The Jaguars, you see, have done pretty well against these kinds of teams. Before the season, you figured the Jaguars would have a tough time against Houston, Cincinnati and Chicago. And no question, the losses the Jaguars sustained in those games were tough. Real, real tough, in fact.
But against the Vikings and the Colts, two teams on paper the Jaguars should have competed with?
Well, in those games the Jaguars did indeed compete. They won one and came oh-so-close to winning the other. The Jaguars should compete Sunday. They absolutely can win, and although they historically have struggled on the West Coast, they have played significantly better on the road than at home this season.
It doesn't get much more "road" for the Jaguars this season. They're leaving a day early, and won't travel further for a game this season. It will be a late arrival home win or lose afterward, with the team not expected to arrive back in Jacksonville until well after midnight.
Their mood when they return could set the tone for the rest of the season, and with that in mind, here are 10 things the Jaguars must do to beat the Raiders Sunday.
1. Stop McFadden.The Jaguars have struggled at times against the run this season. If you struggle against Darren McFadden, you do more than struggle. You lose.
2. Pressure Palmer. The Raiders have talent at receiver. The key is to not let Carson Palmer have time to throw to them. The Jaguars believe they'll have a better pass rush after the bye than before. Considering they have three sacks, that shouldn't be hard, but George Selvie is returning, and Austen Lane is in his second game back. Added depth along the line should help.
3. Throw to Marcedes Lewis.Some of the Jaguars' best offensive moments this season have come when he's involved. He has been able to get open down the field consistently. There hasn't been a lot of consistency offensively this season. Take advantage of this.
4. Adjust.NFL teams struggle when crossing time zones. That's particularly true when East Coast teams travel west. That has been particularly, particularly true for the Jaguars in recent seasons. Mike Mularkey's taking the team to Oakland a day early, an approach that works sometimes and doesn't work others. Whatever the approach, it's an issue, but it's one that can be overcome.
5. Return a punt a long way.This hasn't happened for the Jaguars in a while, and they haven't had a punt return for a touchdown since December 2010. Aaron Ross or Micheal Spurlock will return punts on Sunday rather than Mike Thomas. The hope is one of them can give the Jaguars' special teams a very, very needed lift.
6. Get tough up front.In the past, when all else failed, the Jaguars could run block. So far this season, all else has failed too often and so far this season, the run hasn't been there enough. That needs to change. The guess here is it will.
7. Get Gabbert going.We'll keep saying it and saying it and saying it and saying it . . .
8. Feed Blackmon.We've said this a lot, too, and to be fair, the Jaguars have targeted the rookie far more than any other receiver. There were signs in the final two games before the bye that he was starting to find at least a small groove. Time to make that groove a little wider.
9. Do something unusual.Sure, this is a way of writing around the old Tom Coughlin cliché, "Play above the Xs and Os." It's also a way of not having to say, "Make a play" again. But again . . . make a play. We've said it over and over and over and over, but eventually . . .
10. Just win, baby. It's been a while since the Jaguars won. It feels like longer, and the team really, really needs a victory. So, with apologies to the late Al Davis, we'll steal – er, borrow – his favorite phrase. The Jaguars need to win. It's absolutely critical.