JACKSONVILLE – Don't think for a minute this one's meaningless.
Could Jaguars-Colts at EverBank Field Sunday have had more meaning? Do the Jaguars, their fans and everyone around this team wish it had more meaning?
No doubt. That playoff talk was fun.
But while the couple of weeks talking playoffs pretty much ended with back-to-back losses to San Diego and Tennessee, that doesn't make Sunday's game against the Colts pointless. Far from it.
First, there is the reality that the Jaguars can deal the Colts' playoff hopes a severe blow. Second, when you've won 11 games over the past three seasons, there's really no such thing as a game without meaning. Any victories matter.
But overall, the Jaguars need to win this to serve notice that not only is the season not over, but that they can beat the Colts. This is a team they must show they can beat, and make no mistake:
They absolutely can beat the Colts. They lost to this team in overtime in early October in a game they could have – should have – won.
Forget how different the season would look right now had a field goal drifted a few feet right or left – and goodness, how different it would have looked.
But don't forget that winning this one would be big, and don't forget how a late-season victory over a division-contending rival would feel.
Here are 10 things the Jaguars must do Sunday to make that happen:
1)Score in the red zone.The Jaguars did it last week to the tune of six touchdowns on six trips inside the Titans 20. That sort of efficiency is tough to match. Do it, anyway – or at least get close.
2)Feed A-Rob.Did you see that monstrous three-touchdown performance by Allen Robinson Sunday? Did you see how he took over the game in the second half? He won't match that every week. The league's too competitive. Still, he deserves the chance to try. Get him the ball.
3)Pressure the quarterback.Are the Jaguars going to do this consistently without blitzing? Perhaps not. Is it still critically important? Yes. Can they do it enough to force Matt Hasselbeck into mistakes? It's a must, and if the Jaguars do it, they can win Sunday.
4)Make Matt Hasselbeck feel 40.Hasselbeck is 4-1 as a starter in place of Andrew Luck this season, so the whole 40-year-old-quarterback thing isn't nearly as important as the fact that he's still an effective player. He is smart, efficient and the Colts' offense at times this season has played better with him than with Luck. Still, he struggled against Pittsburgh last week. Make him struggle again. Time the pressure. Hit him. Make things difficult. Something.
5)Keep Good Blake in the game.The good version of Blake Bortles has shown up a lot this year; it really showed up last week. Five touchdowns and no interceptions is better than anyone has a right to expect every week, but the no-interceptions part is key. That was as positive a step as the five touchdown passes and the more he moves in that direction the more the Jaguars' offense will improve.
6)Forget the standings.This playoff talk is over, but the season isn't. The Jaguars still have to play hard for the final four games. This shouldn't be an issue. Head Coach Gus Bradley never has lost this locker room. He won't start now.
7)Cover the tight end.Just do it.
8)Don't forget Julius Thomas.For all the praise of Allen Robinson this week – and it has been really, really well-deserved praise – the emergence of tight end Julius Thomas in recent weeks has been equally important. He was only targeted three times last week, but he scored a touchdown for a third consecutive game and his presence in the red zone is key.
9)Wrap up.The Jaguars missed 16 tackles last week. Some of that may have been being out of position because of a lot of added schemes and pressures. More of it is likely players just needing to play better. Whatever, if you give NFL teams free yards they're going to take advantage.
10)Get off the field. This is for the defense. The Jaguars are 32nd in the NFL in third-down defense. That's crushing, especially when you've played well enough on first and second down to force third-and-longs. A lot of this ties in with pass rush, and it doesn't appear there's an easy fix this season for either issue. Still, if this defense could have gotten off the field more often on third and down this season … well, that's an awfully big "if."