JACKSONVILLE – This task is beyond tough.
We're talking about a couple of things. One is the Jaguars' matchup against the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., Sunday.
Another is writing about 10 things the Jaguars must do to win the game.
The latter is particularly tough, because it's hard to find many ways the Jaguars can be expected to compete in this game. That's the state of their season – and it's the uncertain state of their roster entering the weekend because of COVID-19.
That's not to say they won't try to win Sunday. It's not to say there won't be effort.
The Jaguars are professionals – and if the last six or seven games have shown anything it's that this is a team with pride. The Jaguars play hard through adversity. They have not quit and the guess here is they will approach Sunday in a similar vein.
At the same time, the Jaguars are facing steep adversity on many fronts Sunday. They're playing one of the NFL's best franchises in a game where that franchise must win for its playoff hopes and positioning. The Patriots are motivated – and that's a big deal late in the NFL season.
The Patriots also have lost two consecutive games after a seven-game winning streak. This will be a focused team entering Sunday.
But it's the state of the Jaguars that makes this game particularly tough. They have lost seven consecutive games, and they are struggling to the finish of a draining season. They – like many NFL teams – have made a slew of roster transactions in recent weeks, many of which involve the reserve/COVID-19 list.
That makes any week tough, particularly one that ends with a trip to Foxborough.
So, can the Jaguars win this matchup? Yes. It's the NFL and anything is possible. But winning will be tough, maybe as tough a task as the franchise ever has faced.
Here are 10 things they must do to do it:
- Get a lead. The Jaguars led twice in the first quarter of a 26-21 road loss to the New York Jets last week. Those were their first leads since a 9-6 victory over the Buffalo Bills November 7. It's hard to imagine the Jaguars rallying on the road against the Patriots.
- Win takeaway-giveaway – by a lot. The Jaguars may need a plus-two or plus-three takeaway-giveaway margin Sunday. They only have achieved plus two once this season. That was in their victory over the Bills, unquestionably their high point of the season. If the Jaguars win the turnover statistic by a wide margin, then maybe they can keep this game close.
- Get big moments from unknowns. A lot of the Jaguars' roster Sunday will be backups-turned starters. Some of the roster may be players not on NFL rosters a week ago – or even a few days ago. Many dream upsets feature unknown heroes. The Jaguars need one or two Sunday. Or more.
- Run. OK, so running back James Robinson is out for the season. This team still must run effectively to have a chance. Good news on this front: Dare Ogunbowale ran hard – and ran well – last week against the Jets. He may need to do it again Sunday.
- Play with grit. This shouldn't be a problem. The Jaguars haven't won in far too long. And a lot needs to be fixed in the offseason. But this team played hard – and played together – through a difficult, exhausting season and that shouldn't change Sunday.
- Pressure Patriots quarterback Mac Jones. He's a rookie, and he has struggled the last two weeks after being very consistent all season. Jones hasn't cost the Patriots often this season, but pressuring the rookie quarterback into mistakes seems like the Jaguars' best hope.
- Stop the run. The Jaguars allowed a season-high 273 yards rushing to the Jets Sunday. If the Patriots get anywhere near that, this will be very one-sided in the Patriots' favor.
- Make the spectacular happen. This probably up to Jaguars rookie quarterback Trevor Lawrence. Considering the state of the roster, there may not be many other options.
- Play clean. The Jaguars have committed untimely penalties all season. Avoiding those won't guarantee a victory Sunday. Committing them almost certainly will assure a loss.
- Defy odds. A Jaguars victory would be a monumental upset. Perhaps the biggest in franchise history. Almost certainly the biggest in the NFL this season. It's unlikely. It's improbable. But it's possible. And would be a lot of fun. And Myles Jack wasn't down.