JACKSONVILLE – The opportunity is realer than it has been in a long time.
The Jaguars play the New York Jets Sunday at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, if the Jaguars win, they will be 3-1 and will be assured of at least a share of first place in the AFC South when September becomes October.
This is rarified air for this team.
No, it shouldn't feel quite this rarified. No, it shouldn't be a major deal to be in first place in October. The Jaguars shouldn't have been down for so long to make this feel this important.
But this isn't about "should-have-beens." This is about what's real, and what's real is that the Jaguars have struggled for the last decade. Because they have struggled for the last decade, the chance to move to 3-1 and be in first place in October matters.
That's a short-term view on things, but the short-term can lead to the long term – and that's what Sunday is about as much as anything. The Jaguars need to win to get to 3-1 because 3-1 means you've gotten through the first quarter of the season with a winning record. It means you're in good position to do a lot more good things.
What do the Jaguars need to do to get to 3-1? The same things they have done to get to 2-1. They need to do the basic things well. Run. Play defense. Create turnovers.
Those are three things the Jaguars need to do to win Sunday.
Those three things are part of these 10 things:
1)Feed Fournette …Yes, this remains a "thing" – and it will be a "thing" for a long time. Forget Jaguars rookie running back Leonard Fournette's statistics. Forget that he hasn't had a "breakout" game or run of more than 17 yards. The offense is built around the confidence that Fournette consistently will create manageable situations. And it's built around his toughness. Oh, and feed veteran Chris Ivory, too. His production shouldn't be overlooked.
2)… and keep feeding Fournette.The other reason to keep feeding the rookie? He's too good not to break out. The Jets' defense allowed 190 yards rushing to Buffalo in Week 1 and 180 yards rushing to Oakland in Week 2. Could this be Fournette's week?
3)Keep being good Blake.Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles won't repeat his four-touchdown, no-interception performance against Baltimore every week. But the more he skews toward the poised decisions and pocket presence he showed in that game, the better for the Jaguars.
4)Pressure, pressure, pressure …When the Jaguars have been good this season, they've been very good. And when they have been good, they have created pressure defensively: 10 sacks against Houston in Week 1, enough pressure to bother Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco into a 28-yard passing day last week. Jets quarterback Josh McCown has been good this season, but pressure will bother the veteran.
5) … takeaways, takeaways, takeaways.The easiest statistic to explain the Jaguars' early improvement? Eight takeaways compared to 13 all of last season. They are also plus-5 in takeaway/giveaway differential compared to minus-16 last season. Keep that trend going and you'll keep turning last season's 3-13 record into something much better.
6)Score early. The Jaguars have held double-digit leads in each of their two victories this season. The only game they trailed at halftime was their only loss. This team likely won't be a great come-from-behind team, but it has proven in a big way that it can turn a lead into a comfortable victory.
7)Get the Jets blocked.Jets end Leonard Williams can disrupt a running game – and a passing game. The Jets' ability to get into the backfield before Miami runners could get going was a huge reason the Jets upset Miami last week. Getting Williams blocked enough for Fournette to at least get positive yards will be key.
8)Cut out the penalties.It hasn't all been giddy giggles for the Jaguars this season. They have committed 29 penalties in three games. They've had big enough leads twice to make the penalties a minor story. But they'll be a major story in close games – and this team still figures to play many close games.
9)Be professional.This is the sort of game good professional football teams win: road games against opponents they should beat. It's also the sort of game that sometimes trips a young, ascending team. This team isn't good enough to assume anything. Stay professional. Stay focused. Do what you're capable of doing, and don't get cocky. You haven't done remotely enough to be that.
10)Keep Marcedes Lewis involved.With Allen Robinson out, an extra element is needed in the passing offense. The veteran tight end was that element last week. Why not again?