This is not impossible.
That's the first thing to remember as you read this, because you've been hearing a lot this week that no way can the Jaguars win Sunday. And on paper, there indeed is much to suggest that the task facing the Jaguars this week is indeed an impossible one, or pretty darned close.
The New England Patriots?
The 10-4, Tom Brady-, Bill Belichick-led New England Patriots? That's the team the Jaguars face this week as they try to avoid setting a franchise record for most losses in a season?
That is indeed the team, and it is indeed a difficult task – easily the most difficult task in what has proven to be a very difficult Jaguars season.
But it is not impossible, and that's true despite what you hear, despite what the statistics may be telling you, despite what the odds makers say. It's not impossible, because this is the NFL, and in the NFL, teams always have a chance.
It will take a monstrous effort, and in truth, it will take a surprising effort. The Jaguars haven't played well enough in a game this season to beat the Patriots, and the Patriots are very capable of winning on a sub-par day. The matchups, the statistics – obviously all favor the Patriots.
And you know what? So what?
In the NFL, that doesn't always matter. Because in the NFL, plays can get made, turnovers can happen, the unlikely can occur. Quarterbacks can have huge days, and receivers can, too. Teams for one day can play better than they have all season, and when that happens, teams can overcome huge odds.
All of those things need to happen Sunday for the Jaguars to win, and while few expect it to happen, it can happen. And here are 10 things the Jaguars must do to make that happen:
1. Pressure Tom Brady. We could copy and paste this 10 times and be done with it. That's how important it is to pressure Brady. You don't stop the Patriots or even slow them down unless you make Brady uncomfortable. Do that, and he's like any quarterback. He will throw errant passes, and when he does the Jaguars must . . .
2. Catch interception opportunities.They won't come often, but when they come, you must take advantage. Even if the Jaguars force turnovers, this game won't be easy. If they don't force them, it's just about impossible.
3. Catch the ball. We'll keep saying it and saying it and saying it . . .
4. Protect Chad Henne.OK, so it hasn't happened much yet. And OK, so it's on "10 things" pretty much every week. That doesn't make it less important. Henne has done a good job standing in the pocket and delivering under pressure. It would be a positive if he didn't need to do this.
5. Get the ball to Cecil Shorts. Do you have a better idea?
6. Get the ball to Justin Blackmon.Yes, this is little more than a variation on No. 5, but it's important because the Patriots are very good at taking a team's best receiver away. That means they're likely to focus on Shorts, which means Blackmon should have a chance to be targeted.
7. Stop the run.Sounds simple, but for the Jaguars, this has been anything but easy lately. They allowed 242 yards rushing to the Bills three weeks ago, 166 to the Jets the next week and 180 to the Dolphins last week. New England's not exactly "run-oriented," but the Patriots aren't stupid. If the run is there, they'll take it.
- Pressure Tom Brady. **Did we mention this already? Well, it's still important, and as important as it is, it will be just as difficult. Brady gets the ball out quickly. The Patriots typically give him time. And the Jaguars have a league-low 14 sacks. Jason Babin has shown signs of life, forcing two fumbles in the last two weeks. The Jaguars need that to happen at least once Sunday.
9. Win the third quarter.Actually, right now, the Jaguars would just take breaking even in the third quarter. First, the Bills, then the Jets, then the Dolphins took control of games in the third quarter against the Jaguars the last three weeks, and once the Jaguars lost control, they never got it back. First, you have to be in the game at halftime, which won't be easy against New England, but if you're close, you have to come out of halftime with more energy and focus than the last three weeks.
10. Play better. Realistically, that's what it will take, and it may take the Jaguars' best game in a while. They'll have to play better than they did against Houston at midseason. They actually may have to play twice that well. And they'll need New England to make mistakes. Do those things, and you have a chance. If not . . .