JACKSONVILLE – Whatever the record, this one matters.
Whatever the standings, the Jaguars are very much taking this game seriously – and that was a major theme around EverBank Field this week. No, the Jaguars can't go to the postseason.
Yes, they're going to finish the season with at least 11 losses – yes, again.
But neither of those things means they've quit on the season. And if they're forced to play the spoiler role – a role they have played far too often in recent seasons and one they believed they would avoid this season – then that's what they'll do.
More than that, though, the Jaguars just need to win. They've lost eight consecutive games since a 2-3 start. Another loss would mean breaking the franchise record of eight consecutive single-season losses set at the beginning of Head Coach Gus Bradley's first season.
That's something the Jaguars very much want to avoid doing. That won't be easy with the Texans playing at home and needing a victory to stay in first place in the AFC South.
Here are 10 things the Jaguars need to do to win Sunday:
1)Make throws downfield.We're installing this as No. 1 because Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles showed last Sunday against Minnesota he can get through a game without a big interception. That had been the No. 1 priority for the Jaguars in recent weeks, and getting through a game without a major turnover was important. But you still need a quarterback to make big throws deep downfield when they're there. Bortles hasn't made that happen enough this season.
2)Protect the ball.This is No. 2, because it's still painfully important. Bortles has committed 19 turnovers this season. The Jaguars have committed 25 as a team. It's hard to win in the NFL with either number.
3)Protect Bortles.The Jaguars' pass protection is much better than last season, and that remains true in the wake of a four-sacks-allowed performance against Minnesota. Houston's pass rush isn't quite on par with Denver's or Minnesota's – but even without J.J. Watt, the Houston pass rush is potent. And Jadeveon Clowney had perhaps his best game in the NFL last Sunday. If the Jaguars can't protect Bortles Sunday, they can't win.
4)Stop the madness!!!!The Jaguars have allowed a long punt or kickoff return to set up a score in six consecutive games. They turned in a special-teams performance filled with so many penalties last week against Minnesota that it was hard to process. That must stop. It simply must.
5)Care.The Jaguars haven't stopped caring yet. Six consecutive close losses show that. There's no reason to stop now – or to think they will.
6)Pressure Osweiler.The Jaguars haven't been a great pass-rushing team defensively. Or a great takeaway team. Those things are intertwined, but those things are also a reason the Jaguars' defense doesn't feel elite yet. Texans quarterback Brock Osweiler has thrown 14 interceptions this season, but you need to pressure him to get him to throw you the ball.
7)Stop the run.Yeah, this is a must every week, but the Texans rank sixth in the NFL in rushing – and running back Lamar Miller will beat you if you're not stout in this area. Even if you stop the Texans early, they won't stop running. When the Jaguars' defense has been good this season, it has been really good against the run. It will need to be really good Sunday.
8)Beat Battle Red. It's Battle Red Sunday in Houston. The Jaguars must find some way somehow to overcome it.
9)Throw the ball to Marqise Lee.This not only helps the offense significantly, it has become so much fun to watch. Lee has emerged in recent weeks as the Jaguars' most-dangerous offensive player, and that's starting to mean big plays downfield. It hasn't meant a slew of touchdowns, but the Jaguars don't necessarily need a slew of touchdowns. They need one or two, and Lee is more than capable of that.
10)Win the fourth quarter.The Jaguars have spent the last six weeks losing the fourth quarter. It's the biggest reason they've spent the last six weeks losing games. Score a late clutch touchdown on offense. Make a big fourth-quarter stop on defense. You win games in the NFL by winning in the fourth quarter. Just do it.