JACKSONVILLE – They're back in it with a chance to stay in it.
That's the scenario the Jaguars will face in Denver against the Broncos on Sunday. After a frustrating first two games, a Week 3 victory has them back in the early-season conversation.
After a one-sided season-opening loss to Kansas City, the Jaguars have improved each of the last two weeks – losing to the Houston Texans when a late two-point run was ruled short and handling AFC South rival Tennessee in the team's most impressive performance in more than a year.
Beating Tennessee was a solid step, and it makes Sunday's game at Empower Field at Mile High one that could determine the Jaguars' early-season momentum.
If the Jaguars win – and this is a very winnable road game – this will be a hot team on a two-game winning streak. It will be perceived as a resilient team, winning despite the ongoing storyline around cornerback Jalen Ramsey's trade demands, sickness and personal issues.
If they lose, the conversation will be about a team that's two games under .500 and suddenly staring at a heavy lift during October to get into the playoff chase.
What must the Jaguars to do win Sunday? Here are 10 things:
1.Rush the passer. The Jaguars' No. 1 strength is their pass rush. When it's good, this team is very good. When it's not disrupting the quarterback, not so much. A lot goes into a pass rush: Getting a lead, stopping the run, etc. The Jaguars must do those things. When they do, they must pressure the quarterback – and this week, that means pressuring Broncos quarterback Joe Flacco.
2.Believe in the 'Stache. The only reason this is No. 2 is because No. 1 – rush the passer – is so important. Rookie Gardner Minshew II – aka, the 'Stache – is more than the cultural phenomenon that is "Minshew Mania." He has played very well – and very poised – at quarterback for the last five quarters. The 'Stache was good enough against Tennessee to score early and maintain control of the game late. He's proving he can handle what's asked of him. The Jaguars must keep asking.
3.Run. This has been a major focus for Head Coach Doug Marrone all week; it's his belief the offensive line must play better moving forward and give running back Leonard Fournette a chance. The Jaguars beat Tennessee with Fournette rushing for negative yards on his first 14 carries. They won't win consistently doing that.
4.Feed Chark. Second-year wide receiver DJ Chark Jr. has caught a touchdown pass in each of the first three games. He has made a huge impact, developing as a reliable go-to option. The Jaguars must keep going to him.
5.Don't lose faith in Dede. Third-year wide receiver Dede Westbrook had the toughest game of his NFL career against Tennessee with a couple of uncharacteristic errors. He's too good for that to continue, and the Jaguars must keep giving him opportunities.
6.Get an early lead. This was key against the Titans – partly because it allowed the pass rush to be effective, and partly because it gave the Jaguars early needed momentum. It will be just as important in Denver. The Broncos are struggling. At 0-3, they desperately need a victory. With an early lead, they will have hope. If the Jaguars get ahead early, it will have the opposite effect.
7.Force turnovers – and score defensively. This is always key for this team. A curious statistic is that while the Jaguars' defense has played very well the last two weeks, it has yet to force a turnover this season with the team's lone takeaway coming on a muffed punt against Tennessee. If the Jaguars keep pressuring the quarterback as they have the last two weeks, takeaways will come.
8.Withstand the surge. The Broncos are desperate, their season on the line. A desperate team at home is a dangerous team. The Broncos at some point will make plays and get momentum on their side. How the Jaguars handle that moment likely will decide Sunday's outcome.
9.Remain focused. We include this because everyone around the Jaguars is talking about cornerback Jalen Ramsey and distractions. This in reality is the least of this team's worries. This is a focused team. It played better in Week 2 after Ramsey's sideline incident with Marrone and it played its best game in a year last week after Ramsey requested a trade. Focus hasn't been a problem thus far. There's no reason for it to start being a problem now.
10.Get Miller and Chubb blocked. Broncos pass rushers Von Miller and Bradley Chubb can wreck a game. This will be a huge test for Jaguars tackles Cam Robinson and Jawaan Taylor. They must pass it and protect Minshew, which leads to this week's "bonus thing:"
11.Believe in the 'Stache. Why stop now?