JACKSONVILLE – We're nearing the end, which is never easy.
That's the great truth about any NFL season, even long ones. And while this Jaguars season without a doubt has been long and difficult – and unbelievably weird – the truth in this case holds.
Endings are difficult, because they're real. And often final.
Head Coach Doug Marrone began emphasizing this last Sunday, shortly after the Jaguars' loss to the Atlanta Falcons – and a full week before Sunday's regular-season finale against the Indianapolis Colts at TIAA Bank Field. Marrone advised players to not worry this week about the team's disappointing 5-10 record, and to instead focus on the game.
There were a couple of reasons to do this. For one, it's a home game. For another, it's a chance for many players and coaches to get one more good performance on tape – something Marrone has acknowledged multiple times in recent weeks as an issue for players and coaches on a team that failed to meet preseason expectations.
The final reason is more basic, and emotional. Whatever happens to General Manager David Caldwell and Marrone – and their futures with the organization won't likely be known until after Sunday's game – this certainly will be the last time this group of players plays together.
That makes this a difficult day. Yes, a long season is almost over. In one sense, that means fans and observers can begin looking forward to next season. But for players and coaches it's an end – and the only thing they can do for the present is try to make their final game together a victory.
Here are 10 things the Jaguars must do to do that:
1.Play for the love of it. We rarely take this route in "Ten things." This is professional football, not an '80s movie. But Marrone's correct that the last-regular season game always marks many "ends" – of careers, of players playing together. If you can't play for love in this one, when can you?
2.Stop.The.Run. Once more, with feeling: The Jaguars' inability to stop the run has defined the season, and one of the games that most defined the season was a 33-13 loss at Indianapolis when the Jaguars couldn't come close to stopping the run.
3.Pressure Jacoby Brissett. The Colts quarterback has been less effective in recent weeks than early in the season, perhaps because of the aftereffects of a midseason knee injury. The Jaguars still pass rush well, and it's still their best formula for success.
4.Work the middle of the field. Rookie quarterback Gardner Minshew II hasn't done this enough in the passing game. Part of the reason for that is the lack of a big-time receiving tight end. Whatever the reason, the inability to produce in the middle of the field has made the passing game too easy to defend much of the season.
5.Score early. The Jaguars have scored 22 first-half points in the last seven games. That's almost impossible and it's a major reason a team that was contending for the AFC South title at midseason finished well out of the playoffs.
6.Throw some "stuff" at the wall. When discussing the Jaguars' recent struggles early in games, Minshew tongue-in-cheek this week said the Jaguars would throw a lot of "stuff" at the wall and hope something would stick. That's not a bad idea. Try something new. Try anything. Whatever has been going on early in games, it's not working.
7.Score touchdowns, not field goals. Red-zone offense has been a major issue for this team all season and it's a problem that's intertwined with the recent first-half issues. Even when the Jaguars have driven well early in games recently, those drives have stalled short of the goal line. The Jaguars have one first-half touchdown since the bye. That's almost impossible, too.
8.Get wide receiver DJ Chark Jr. 24 yards. The second-year receiver needs that many receiving yards to reach 1,000 for the season for the first time. This won't necessarily get the Jaguars the victory, but it would get a deserving player a memorable milestone.
9.Stick with Fournette. Running back Leonard Fournette remains the Jaguars' best offensive player. It's tricky to stay with him when the Jaguars trail early as they have lately. But tricky or not, the Jaguars must keep Fournette involved.
10.Feel the Stache. This is the end of a long season. Considering the record, attendance may not be great. But the fans who are there will care – and they love Minshew. He has struggled lately, but he still provides energy. The Jaguars must feed off it.