JACKSONVILLE – The Jaguars are still in it. If they win Sunday, they will still be in it next week.
Yes, for all of the storylines as Falcons-Jaguars on Sunday at EverBank Field approaches – and there are plenty of storylines around this team and this young, rapidly-improving offense – the oh-so-so tantalizing theme of playoff expectations stands out.
The lure of the postseason indeed tends to overshadow all else.
We won't parse through every scenario, but the important thing to the Jaguars is any realistic postseason scenario involves them winning their three remaining games: home against Atlanta Sunday, at New Orleans December 27 and at Houston January 3.
The Jaguars (5-8) don't control their postseason destiny, but if they beat the Falcons Sunday they will still be alive in the chase for the AFC South title. They currently trail Indianapolis (6-7) and Houston (6-7) by a game in the division standings.
Winning their final three games would mean finishing the season on a four-game winning streak. That's a big task for a team that hasn't accomplished that feat since 2007.
The next part of the task is winning Sunday, which is doable task if the Jaguars do 10 things:
1)Stay humble.What? Stay humble? How can a 5-8 team be anything but? Well, the Jaguars set a franchise-record record for regular-season points in a 51-16 victory over the Colts Sunday. Things felt a bit easy in the second half – and this team hasn't experienced much "easy" lately. The NFL isn't easy. Sunday won't be, either. Remember that.
2)Pressure the quarterback.Many people gave up on the Jaguars getting effective pressure this season. Then last week … Voila! A sack/fumble/fumble return by Andre Branch for a touchdown brought back memories of what effective edge rush means. It's hard to win in the NFL without that pressure, and the Jaguars will need it again to start any sort of a late-season run. Keep rushing. And keep getting home.
3)Force Matt Ryan into mistakes.Yes, this is an extension of No. 3, but it's that important. Chris Clemons and Branch turned in perhaps their best game of the season last week. Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan has been interception-prone at times this season, but that won't happen without pressure up front. Pressure him.
4)Keep the streak alive.Tight end Julius Thomas has touchdown receptions in four consecutive games. He has emerged as a key factor on third downs and in the red zone. Keep letting him emerge.
5)Run.With T.J. Yeldon (knee) likely out Sunday, the Jaguars on paper seem likely to pass first and run second. And maybe they will. But the Falcons have struggled against the run in recent weeks and the Jaguars rushed for a season-high 154 yards against the Colts. The Jaguars don't have to drain clock and grind out 15-play drives, but the formula seems to be there to at least be balanced. Run.
6)Get ahead early.This won't be easy. The Jaguars have started slow offensively most of the season, and the Falcons almost certainly will enter the game wanting to avoid a seven-game losing streak. But maybe it's time for a quick start. Early touchdowns have a funny way of making a struggling team not want to try hard enough to stop the struggles. Get a lead. Bury them.
7)Feed off the 'Bank.Last Sunday at the 'Bank was fun. A lot of fun. There have been a couple of really fun days there this season. This place is starting to have the feel of a real home-field advantage and that feeling is only building. It's the regular-season home finale. Send the fans home with a reason to cheer. They deserve it.
8)Score in the red zone.The Jaguars have been doing it at a remarkable pace of late – 10 of 10 scoring touchdowns in the red zone in the last two games. You won't score at that pace all the time, but if you get close – even remotely close – you'll be hard to beat. That's particularly true the way this offense moves between the 20s.
9)Feed Allen Hurns and Allen Robinson.Well, why the heck wouldn't you?
10)Be Blake.We've talked a lot this season about Good Blake Bortles and Bad Blake Bortles, but as last Sunday and the recent weeks have shown, he is growing up fast. He is finding his way. He's not perfect, and he's not going to be perfect. But being himself is starting to yield results, so do that. Just Be Blake. That's starting to look like enough a lot of the time.