JACKSONVILLE – It's all there for the taking – or, the winning.
Yes, it may sound far-fetched, weird and even flat-out crazy to say it out loud – and it may even be way early to spend much time considering such things …
And, no, the Jaguars really didn't earn it …
Still, the unassailable, absolute truth is that with their season a week from the midway point the Jaguars and their 2-5 record are a half-game out of first place.
That's right, a half-game out.
That guarantees nothing entering Sunday's game against the New York Jets (4-3) at MetLife Stadium. And to make any sort of a run at the postseason, the Jaguars must do many of the things they haven't done yet this season – a list that includes pressuring the quarterback consistently, avoiding mistakes offensively and closing out games given the opportunity.
Still, the Jaguars have shown signs of growth. If they can build momentum from a pre-bye week victory over Buffalo in which they came up with a late go-ahead drive and an ensuing game-winning defensive stop …
Well, yeah, it sounds far-fetched, but the postseason?
It's all there for the taking – or, the winning.
With that in mind, here are 10 things the Jaguars must do to beat the Jets Sunday:
1)Stop the run.This always matters to the Jaguars, who consider themselves a run-first defense and who have been just that in most games this season. It will matter more Sunday. Jets running back Chris Ivory is a tough, physical runner. The Jaguars must be tougher and more physical.
2)Pressure the passer.It's not easy pressuring Jets starting quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who has been sacked just four times this season. He gets rid of the ball quickly and scrambles well. Can blitzing be as effective Sunday as it was against the Bills the week before the bye? Considering the trouble the Jaguars have had pressuring with four rushers, we'll probably find out.
3)Intercept the ball.Fitzpatrick has thrown seven interceptions this season, so if pressured he may throw you the ball. When it happens – if it happens – the Jaguars must make the play. That hasn't happened often. The team has three interceptions, none by the secondary.
4)Force a turnover – any kind of turnover.The Jaguars beat Buffalo before the bye primarily because they forced four turnovers. Three led to scores. They won't get that many turnovers every week, but they can't slip back to the one-every-two-games pace they set for the first six weeks, either.
Images from Thursday's practice as the Jaguars prepare to face the New York Jets.
5)Get Julius Thomas involved.This hasn't happened enough. Yet. Thomas, a Pro Bowl tight end with Denver the past two seasons, missed the first four games of the season with a thumb injury – and despite a seven-reception, 78-yard, one-touchdown game against Houston, he and quarterback Blake Blake Bortles haven't qui-i-i-te developed chemistry. That will happen at some point. With Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis likely shadowing wide receiver Allen Robinson, it would behoove Jacksonville if it happens Sunday.
6)Break the streak. The Jaguars have lost 12 consecutive road games, the longest such streak in franchise history. But this season hasn't been a case of the Jaguars being out of their road games in the fourth quarter. They lost in overtime in Indianapolis and were up on Tampa Bay in the second half. Winnable road games pepper the rest of the Jaguars' schedule, and good teams must win on the road.
7)Feed Allen Hurns.This is not to say "Ignore Allen Robinson." Even if Revis indeed covers him, Robinson needs to be involved. But Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie allowed two touchdowns in a loss at Oakland last week and Hurns has been nearly as productive this season as Robinson.
Images from Wednesdays practice as the Jaguars prepare to face the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium in Week 9.
8)Make the makeables.Yes, this is a holdover from the last few weeks. Yes, it remains important. If the Jaguars are going win this season, the games are going to be close. Three points matter. One point matters. Heck, they all matter. Jason Myers must make kicks.
9)Score when close. As much as the Jaguars' offense has struggled in the red zone, the Jets' defense has excelled. The Jets rank third in the NFL in red-zone defense in terms of touchdowns allowed while the Jaguars' offense is 19th in terms of touchdowns in the red zone. The Jaguars have moved consistently between the 20s, so they should get opportunities. Getting in the end zone won't be easy against a very good Jets defense, but it's necessary.
10)Finish, finish, finish.This entry isn't about details; it's about big picture. The Jaguars have been given a second chance this season. At 2-5, they're not out of the division race. They believe they're improved. They believe they're closer. They believe the difference between a good record and 2-5 is the inability to close games. If they're right, it's time to start showing it.