JACKSONVILLE – One day more.
The Jaguars' long, long, l-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-ong 2016 season – a season of twists and turns, highs and lows, and more losses and disappointment than anyone dreamed four months ago – ends on Sunday afternoon. That's when the Jaguars visit the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Indiana.
It hasn't been close to the season Jaguars players, coaches or many observers expected.
Jobs have been lost, there have been changes at head coach and offensive coordinator and more change may be coming very soon – all the result of a 3-12 record that featured nine consecutive losses, the franchise record for consecutive losses in a single season.
And yet, a hint of optimism remains as the regular-season finale approaches. The last seven games of the aforementioned losing streak were decided in the fourth quarter. The Jaguars played contending teams tough throughout the season, and when the Jaguars knocked the Tennessee Titans from the postseason this past Saturday with a 38-17 victory at EverBank Field …
Well, considering how close the Jaguars had come so often this season, that victory felt less like a fluke and more like a team figuring something out.
Maybe it was the effect of Interim Head Coach Doug Marrone. Maybe the players felt the urgency a head coaching change can bring. Maybe quarterback Blake Bortles relaxed enough to begin fulfilling the potential he showed during 2015.
Whatever, there was a better feeling around the 'Bank this week than there had been in some time. The task this week: win again, and carry at least part of that feeling into the offseason.
Here are 10 things the Jaguars must do to make that happen:
1. Stay loose … or whatever that was.This is about Bortles, because more than anything else, that's what last Saturday at EverBank Field was about. The third-year quarterback looked like a different player than he had much of the season. He completed 17 of his first 18 passes. The offense played with tempo. He looked like a player around which a franchise can build. Whatever happened, Bortles needs to do it again. And he needs to keep doing it next season.
2. Keep Allen Robinson involved.The Jaguars took advantage of a favorable matchup Saturday and got Robinson involved in a big way. He caught a season-high 147 yards worth of passes, and it was no coincidence that the offense looked better than it had all season.
3. Stay focused.This won't be easy this week. Playoff hopes are long since over. The shakeup that was last week's head-coaching change is a week in the rear view. With the Colts also out of the postseason, Lucas Oil Stadium on Sunday may not be the NFL's most intense atmosphere. Professionalism, pride and want-to will matter. The Jaguars need to show all three.
4. Stay urgent.The impact of Marrone replacing Head Coach Gus Bradley was clear Saturday. Most of the young players in the Jaguars' locker room never had been through a head-coaching change. The team as a whole played with the urgency that such a change often brings. The Jaguars need to keep that up Sunday. It made a difference.
5 .Shut down Hilton.This is about rookie cornerback Jalen Ramsey. His matchup against Colts wide receiver T.Y. Hilton promises to be compelling theatre – partly because all of Ramsey's matchups recently have been compelling theatre. Slowing Hilton isn't easy. He's a three-time Pro Bowl player. But Ramsey held him to 42 yards receiving in London in Week 4. Keep an eye on this one, but why wouldn't you? Ramsey's the best viewing on this team right now.
6. Pressure Andrew Luck.The Colts' quarterback remains elite, but teams this season have been able to negate his effectiveness with pressure. The Jaguars haven't pressured the quarterback consistently all season, but they did it last week. They must do it again.
7. Get a lead.The Jaguars haven't gotten enough leads this season, and the pressure of playing behind at times has affected everything. They got a lead and kept it Saturday against Tennessee. That helped the defense have one of its most effective games of the season stopping the run and pressuring the quarterback. It all ties together.
8. Keep covering the$&$(#! punts and kickoffs. **The Jaguars did a better job at this Saturday than they had done in a long, long time. They also kept special-teams errors to a minimum better than they had done in a long, long time. They won for the first time in a long, long time, too. Speaking of things tying together …
9. Force turnovers.That pick-six by Ramsey at the end of last week's game? Yeah … do something like that again.
10. Savor the moment.This will be the last time this Jaguars team is together in this capacity. Change is nigh. There will be new coaches – and new players, too. Even when this team has lost this season, it has been a locker room that has stayed together. It has been a team that has played hard. The Jaguars need to do it one more time – for the final time.