JACKSONVILLE – This one feels sorta big, doesn't it?
Not season-defining, necessarily. That's not quite the level of importance for the Jaguars when they play the Miami Dolphins at EverBank Field Sunday.
And the reason it's big isn't because they're 0-1 with road games against New England and Indianapolis coming up in the next two weeks, though that indeed is a daunting task.
No, the reason Sunday feels big is because the Jaguars need to play well.
That was what was most surprising about a 20-9 loss to the Carolina Panthers in the regular-season opener this past Sunday. Not that the Jaguars lost, because Carolina despite a 7-8-1 record last season also was still a playoff team a year ago. A victory in that game never was guaranteed.
No, what was surprising — and disappointing – was the Jaguars didn't play well.
The things that looked good throughout the preseason didn't look good in the opener. Mistakes they hadn't made in the preseason showed up again. Strides you thought the team had taken suddenly looked … well, un-strode.
That's what you need to see from the Jaguars Sunday. It's what they need to see from themselves. They need to play well. They need to make strides. They need to believe in themselves again. And sure, they need to win.
Here are 10 things the Jaguars must do to do that on Sunday:
1)Play loose.This is primarily a Blake Bortles thing. To the surprise of many, he played a bit cautiously in the opener. That's not him. He's going to throw interceptions, but he has to make plays, too. Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley on Monday talked about the need to give receivers a chance to make plays, to catch the 50-50 ball. That has to happen. Forget the opener. Forget KindergardenGate. Go play.
2)Catch the ball.Yes, we're back to this again, but it's glaring. The receivers have to eliminate the drops that are preventing big plays. They must catch with their hands. They must keep their feet on the ground. Whatever it takes. Do it.
3)Make kicks.Extra points. Field goals of less than 45 yards. It's the NFL. Those must be made.
4)Win the turnover battle.This is so-o-o-o-o-o obviously true of every NFL team, but it's really true for the Jaguars. One overlooked statistic in the preseason was Jaguars quarterbacks threw no interceptions. Bortles threw two in the opener, one of which was returned for a touchdown. Teams with a high-powered, experienced offense have trouble overcoming two pick/Pick-Six games. Young teams with growing offenses almost never can.
5)Punch it in.The Jaguars were at the Panthers 3-yard line and 15-yard line in the first half Sunday and got a total of three points. Another opportunity slid by when Rashad Greene couldn't hold a pass inside the Panthers 5-yard line. Opportunities were there against Carolina and should be there Sunday. Take advantage of them.
6)Throw it to the tight end.There were plays designed for Marcedes Lewis last week. For a slew of reasons they ball never got there. It needs to get there this week. The position is too important, and even without Julius Thomas the Jaguars' tight ends are too capable, not to use it.
7)Pressure Tannehill.This starts with slowing a running game that managed just 74 yards against Washington in the regular-season opener. Then, it's about pressuring quarterback Ryan Tannehill into mistakes. The Jaguars got more pressure on Panthers quarterback Cam Newton than many expected last week. The Jaguars must keep the pressure up.
8)Fight through it.The most glaring issue in the opener came in the second half. Down eight with 9:01 remaining the game shouldn't have been over. A comeback was possible. Instead, the Jaguars produced just five first downs and never got past midfield again. Show resiliency. Battle through it.
9)Run.The Jaguars did this well early in the opener, and they never really were ineffective on the ground. A stagnant offense and a time-consuming drive by the Panthers conspired to limit the Jaguars' running opportunities in the second half. This team wants to be a dominant running offense. T.J. Yeldon looks like he can be very good. Make both happen.
10)Grow up.This is still a young team, particularly on offense. It's a difficult "ask" for young players to carry a team. Well, the Jaguars are asking anyway. The young players on this team must be core players. It's the way it's built. It's time to be mature. It's time to grow up.