JACKSONVILLE – This one won't be easy.
We may as well get that out of the way, because if there's a great, overriding truth about what's facing the Jaguars on Sunday, it is that it won't be easy to beat the New England Patriots.
And it's true, too, that there may not be a more difficult task in the NFL right now than going on the road and winning at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts. The Patriots are the defending Super Bowl champions with not only Head Coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady, but tight end Rob Gronkowski, too.
It's not a reach to say all three could be among the best to ever to do what they do.
That's not to say the Patriots are flawless or unbeatable. No NFL team fits that description, but the Patriots are really good at finding your weaknesses, exploiting those weaknesses and doing what they do well against you. All teams try to do that; the Patriots consistently do it really well.
That's true of the Patriots on defense and on offense, and the combination of all of that makes this one of the toughest tasks a young, improving Jaguars team will face this season. So what do the Jaguars need to do to win?
Here are 10 things:
1)Forget the opponent.Good luck, right? Forget the Patriots? Forget Belichick and Brady? Of course you have to be aware of what they do – Gronkowski as well. You must prepare. But the Jaguars have to forget the circumstances. Forget that you have watched Brady since you were a pre-teen. Play the game. This team isn't perfect. It's not unbeatable. Don't treat the game that way.
2)Do what you did a week ago.There will be a lot of this theme in this "10 things" – and understandably so. The Jaguars did a lot of things against the Dolphins that define what they want to do this season. Run. Make big plays in the passing game. Get pressure on the opposing quarterback in key situations. Mainly, the Jaguars must approach the Patriots game as they did the Dolphins. They entered that game wanting to show that they were an improved team that was a whole lot better than it showed in the opener. Channel that.
3)Take chances.This is about Blake Bortles – and it's in keeping with the "do-what-you-did-a-week-ago" theme. Playing safe and worrying about interceptions isn't his way. Let the receivers make plays. Give them the opportunity.
Images from the Jaguars Thursday practice.
4)Be cool.This is about Bortles, too. Belichick will do things to confuse Bortles; he does things defensively to confuse most young quarterbacks – and making his 16th NFL start Bortles still qualifies as a young quarterback on Sunday. A mistake or too may happen early. Trust the preparation. Stay cool.
5)Be cool … the sequel.This moves over to defense. Just as the Patriots are very good at confusing young quarterbacks, they are very good at straining defenses mentally and physically. They will change pace. They will go no-huddle. They will take advantage of mistakes. They probably will score in the first half – maybe more than once. What's more important for the Jaguars is how they respond to those early scores. If you don't keep composure against the Pats, more and more scores can happen in a hurry.
6)Pressure Brady. Remember how the Dolphins game felt late? When the Jaguars front pressured and hit Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill again and again? It won't be easy to give Sunday's game that same feel. Easy or not, that's the objective.
7)Score touchdowns.Field goals probably won't beat the Patriots. This doesn't mean to go for it on every fourth-and-20 from the Patriots 25, but when the Jaguars are in the red zone they need to score touchdowns.
8.Use Allen Hurns.And Marqise Lee and the tight ends. The Patriots like to take away a team's best weapon. Logic after this past Sunday says that's Allen Robinson. He's not the only capable Jaguars receiver. Hurns, Lee and the tight ends need to play big. They can do that.
9.Force turnovers.This ties in with No. 6. If you pressure Brady, you can force bad throws. If you force bad throws, you can intercept them. Will this happen often? Probably not. Can it keep a team in the game if it happens? Absolutely.
10.Play the way you play.There's a tendency with young teams to believe you must do the extraordinary to beat a very good team. That's not the case. If the Jaguars' players make plays of which they are capable, that will be enough. They have to play well. They have to play consistently. As a team, they will definitely have to play far and away their best game. But forget the spectacular. Just play …
And of course, play really well.