JACKSONVILLE – One more game.
The Jaguars have endured a lot this season – losses both one-sided and tight, talk of tanking, more injuries than any defense should have to sustain and nearly four months without a victory to show for lot of work, desire and scrap.
Of such things are frustrating seasons made.
And of such things are franchise-record losing streaks – and No. 1 overall selections in the next offseason's drafts – also made.
There's little reason to rehash details as Sunday's regular-season finale against the Indianapolis Colts in Indianapolis approaches. The Jaguars' 2020 season has been more difficult than any player or coach imagined, with 14 consecutive losses – and three consecutive one-sided losses entering the final game of the season.
But credit the Jaguars for this: They may be limping to the finish with a defense that has been devastated by injuries, but their effort hasn't waned, and this team has continued to stay together. That hasn't been good enough to win. Lately, it hasn't been close to good enough to win. But it's not insignificant considering the circumstances.
The Jaguars face a mammoth task Sunday. They're injured, undermanned and long since out of the playoffs. They're playing a team that must win to have a chance at the postseason. That's historically a difficult task. But it's not an impossible one.
Here are 10 things the Jaguars must do to accomplish it:
1.Play their best game of the season. Record notwithstanding, the Jaguars haven't played poorly in all 15 games this season. They played at a high level in a Week 1 victory over Indianapolis, and played well in narrow losses to Tennessee, Houston, Green Bay, Cleveland and Minnesota. Winning Sunday would take a better effort than the Jaguars produced in any of those games.
2.Slow Jonathan Taylor. This is a big ask. An undermanned defensive interior has worn down more often than not in recent weeks. Taylor, a rookie, has improved dramatically late in the season and enters the regular-season finale showing signs of being a front-line running back. The Colts will run him early and often. Considering teams' success running against the Jaguars in recent weeks, why wouldn't they?
3.Protect the quarterback. The Jaguars have been up and down in this area this season. They were way up last week, with tackles Cam Robinson and Jawaan Taylor negating Chicago Bears pass rushers Khalil Mack and Robert Quinn.
4.Run. The Jaguars' offensive line has run-blocked consistently well this season. Witness rookie running back James Robinson's 14-game production, and witness Dare Ogunbowale's production in his first NFL start last week. The Jaguars can't realistically expect big-time play at quarterback, but they can expect it in the running game.
5.Feed DJ Chark Jr. … The third-year wide receiver has been frustrated at times last season, but his 20-yard, toe-tap touchdown last week reminded observers he's a Pro Bowl-talent despite a statistical drop last from last season. If the Jaguars are to win Sunday, the playmakers must make plays. Chark is their best playmaker, if he's healthy.
6. … and Laviska Shenault Jr. While Chark is the Jaguars' best healthy playmaker, Shenault is a close second. He is healthier late in the season than he was midseason, and his 34-yard touchdown reception last week showed again his playmaking potential. Starting quarterback Mike Glennon must use it.
7.Force mistakes. The Jaguars upset the Colts in Week 1 by intercepting Colts quarterback Philip Rivers twice and changing the game's momentum. It's hard to imagine the Jaguars winning – or staying close – without a similar defensive effort.
8.Get a lead. When teams lose as often as the Jaguars have lost this season, confidence becomes an issue. A turnover. A lead. Maybe even a double-digit lead. Those are the sorts of circumstances that enable heavy underdogs to beat playoff contenders late in the season. The Jaguars need a break early Sunday. Maybe more than one.
9.Avoid the "run." The Jaguars have played well in multiple first halves in recent weeks. This includes last week against the Bears when they trailed 13-10 at halftime. The Bears scored four touchdowns on four consecutive drives to start the second half. Game over.
10.Protect the ball. Yes, many of these 10 things are basic football things. The Jaguars haven't done basic things well this season. But protecting the ball is a must for this team. Errors and giveaways from the quarterback position have hurt what little chance the Jaguars have had this week. Playing error-free – or somewhat close – is a must Sunday.