JACKSONVILLE – The "pride thing" is a "real thing" now. Really real.
The "professionalism" thing is real now, too – and those "P words" are ones you'll hear often from Jaguars Head Coach Doug Marrone moving forward this season.
The Jaguars have lost six consecutive games. The best they can finish is 9-7 – which means while they're not technically eliminated from the postseason, players and coaches know discussing the playoffs is pretty pointless.
That leaves words such as pride and professionalism – words that have started creeping into the Jaguars' conversation shortly after the record dipped below .500 – have become major themes. And yeah …
The Jaguars will be leaning on both concepts in a big way – not only against the Buffalo Bills at New Era Field in Orchard Park, New York, Sunday, but for the final month and a half of the season.
Six weeks remain, and that's what's left.
Will they show it? Will they squeeze as many victories as possible from a difficult, disappointing season? Will they play with the fight they have shown in recent weeks?
Based on how close the Jaguars have come in the last three weeks to beating Philadelphia, Indianapolis and Pittsburgh, there's little reason to think the fight won't continue.
But the Jaguars need more than fight. They need their first victory since September.
Here are 10 things they must do to make that happen:
1.Run.The Jaguars at long last got production from the running game against the Steelers last Sunday. The 162 rushing yards from Leonard Fournette, Carlos Hyde and T.J. Yeldon marked the backs' first game over 100 yards rushing this season. Look for the Jaguars to strive to get as close to that formula as possible over the last six games.
2.Get Carlos Hyde involved.Fournette was a big reason the Jaguars' offense looked as strong as it did last week. The power running of Hyde was nearly as big a reason. The Jaguars found a nice back combination last week. Now's not the time to lose it.
3.Take advantage of the kid.The Jaguars' last victory this season came the last time they faced a rookie quarterback: a 31-12 Week 4 victory over No. 3 overall selection Sam Darnold and the New York Jets. No. 7 overall selection Josh Allen is expected to start at quarterback for the Bills Sunday. There may no better opportunity for the Jaguars to snap their six-game losing streak.
4.Pressure …The Jaguars registered two sacks on Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger last week, pressuring him on multiple occasions. The Bills' offensive line isn't nearly as strong as Pittsburgh's. Ends Calais Campbell and Yannick Ngakoue must take advantage.
5. … intercept …While much has been made of the Jaguars' intercepting just three passes in the first seven games of the season, they officially have ended that drought with five in their last three games. Allen hasn't played since sustaining a Week 6 elbow injury. That inactivity could – and should – lead to opportunities for the secondary.
6. … and score.The Jaguars, after seven defensive touchdowns last season, haven't registered one this season since linebacker Myles Jack's fourth-quarter interception return for a touchdown in a Week 1 victory over the New York Giants. If that seems too long ago, well … it was.
7.Protect Blake Bortles.The Jaguars allowed six sacks and many more pressures last week. Bortles helped create some of those sacks, and his mobility prevented a few others. It may not be fair to ask a beat-up offensive line to play perfectly. But considering Bortles' recent struggles, that may be what it takes.
8.Stay focused.The Jaguars struggled with missed assignments defensively in a loss to the Indianapolis Colts. They responded with one of their best games of the season against Pittsburgh last week and were relatively mental-error-free. The difference was significant. They must continue that level against Buffalo.
9.Contain Shady.Bills running back LeSean McCoy had his best game of the season with 113 yards and two touchdowns in a Week 10 victory over the New York Jets – the Bills' last game before a Week 11 bye. McCoy is dangerous, and the Bills figure to lean on him in Allen's return.
10.Make a play late.The Jaguars were oh-so close to victories each of the last two weeks, with a fumble by wide receiver Rashad Greene Sr. costing them a chance for at least a tie against Indianapolis – and a 16-point second-half lead squandered against Pittsburgh this past Sunday. Sometimes in the NFL, victories are about who does – or doesn't – make a play late. The Jaguars haven't made the big one in recent weeks. They must make it Sunday.