JACKSONVILLE – The outlook has gotten direr and direr.
The truth is the truth, and that's the Jaguars' truth through 11 games this season – that three one-sided division losses in the last three games have turned what once was a season of hope into a season in which a major miracle is needed. And we're talking really major.
The Jaguars, once 4-4, are 4-7. They are last in the AFC South and 11th in the AFC standings.
The Jaguars are technically alive in the postseason and can remain that way for a while if they win, but they're teetering, and every game is a must-win game.
Can quarterback Nick Foles play more efficiently than he has in his first two full games as the Jaguars' starter in recent weeks? Can the defense stop the run at last? Can the unit force Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston into more of the turnovers that have helped define his season?
An injured, staggering Jaguars team figures to need at least a couple of those things to happen to keep their playoff hopes intact.
However it happens, the Jaguars just need a victory. Somehow, some way. Winning changes everything, and the Jaguars sure need something to change the feeling of the last three games.
Here are 10 things the Jaguars must do to accomplish that against the Buccaneers Sunday:
1.Pressure Winston … Yes, the troubles against the run are defining the Jaguars' season, but we'll get to that later. The Jaguars figure to have opportunities to rush the passer Sunday because Winston throws a lot. When they get those opportunities, the Jaguars' pass rush must take advantage. It's where the Buccaneers' offense is most dangerous – but also the most vulnerable.
2…. and force him into mistakes. Winston has a very real chance to lead the NFL in touchdown passes, but he seems certain to lead it interceptions. The Jaguars haven't been consistent enough forcing takeaways this season. But Winston presents a real opportunity in this area.
3.Stop the run. The Jaguars' deficiency in this area has defined the season. The Buccaneers aren't a great running team, but the Jaguars have been bad enough here that Tampa Bay almost certainly will test them until they stop it. If the Jaguars don't stop the run, they'll never get a chance to pressure Winston and force the necessary takeaways.
4.Get an early break. A turnover. A big play offensively. Something. The Jaguars haven't gotten enough of these early in games this season. It's not ideal when a team needs a big break to win, but three losses in three games isn't an ideal situation.
5.Get better play from the quarterback position. Maybe it's rust. Maybe it's lingering effects from the broken clavicle. Maybe it's timing. Whatever it is, Foles hasn't provided the needed lift in his last two starts. The Jaguars need that lift Sunday.
6.Make plays in the passing game. This is somewhat about Foles, but it's also very much about the Jaguars' wide receivers. DJ Chark Jr. and Chris Conley both had a chance for a momentum-turning play in last Sunday's loss to the Tennessee Titans. Neither made it, and the missed opportunities cost the Jaguars important early opportunities.
7.Run Fournette. Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette has reestablished himself as the Jaguars' best offensive player and scored a season-high two touchdowns in a loss to the Tennessee Titans last week. Tampa Bay is good against the run, so the going will be tough for Fournette. That's OK. He's a tough running back. He can get going whatever the situation.
8.Get a play from off the grid. We talk about the Jaguars' name players in this space every week. You get the idea that if the Jaguars are going to end this slide, they must get something Sunday from somewhere unexpected. Maybe a tight end? Maybe running back Ryquell Armstead? Maybe linebacker Quincy Williams? It's time for a young guy to grow up and make a big play.
9.Keep the Buccaneers' wide receivers from defining the game. Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans and Chris Godwin might be the NFL's best receiver tandem. Both have game-breaking ability. The Jaguars' secondary is injured and has been largely untested in recent weeks with teams running effectively against the Jaguars. The unit will get tested in a big way Sunday.
10.Just find a way. Do some of these 10 things sound a bit desperate? Perhaps, but this team is desperate for something good to happen. Breaking this slide could be about finding the will to fight enough to do it. However the Jaguars do it, they need this one. Desperately.