JACKSONVILLE – It's time to win. Just because.
If there was a theme in the Jaguars' locker room this week, that was it.
The Jaguars are officially out of the postseason after being essentially out for weeks. Any motivation in terms of record, division titles or anything of the like was lost long ago. So, why be motivated for Sunday? Why care?
For the Jaguars, the reason is simple. Because it's time to win. Just because. They have played hard for the last five weeks, and have played with passion – a notable amount of passion, in fact, for a team that has won far fewer games than many expected.
They on many levels have played well enough to win most of the last five games, and they have done so against five contending teams. The Jaguars believe they are better than 2-10 – and even if few others believe it, their belief in themselves has remained strong.
What that belief hasn't done is produce a victory. That has produced some frustration and disbelief, but it doesn't seem to have led to any quit. That's notable, but it's not winning.
So, that's the motivation Sunday: to win. Because they believe they're capable, and because they believe they're better than 2-10.
Because of pride. Because of professionalism. Just because.
Here are 10 things the Jaguars need to do to make that happen:
1) Protect the ball.You know how you rank No. 4 in the NFL in total defense and still have a 2-10 record? Well … many reasons – but chief among them is a league-worst minus-18 turnover ratio. You. Can. Not. Win. Doing. That.
2) Protect Bortles.This hasn't been a major issue this season because the Jaguars' pass protection is dramatically improved from the last two seasons. That was particularly true last week when Bortles was sacked just once by the Broncos. Minnesota's pass rush isn't as well-known as Denver's. It might be as good.
3) Stop the run.This is key for this defense every week – and at times this season the Jaguars' defense has been really good at it. With Vikings running back Adrian Peterson out with a torn meniscus and the Vikings' offense last in the NFL in rushing, this must be one of those times
4) Cover the #%$&$%@ punt.Still.
5) Run – or at least run enough.This actually would be a major, major upset if it happens. The Vikings are one of the NFL's best defenses and the Jaguars could be without Chris Ivory and Denard Robinson with T.J. Yeldon still playing through an ankle injury. A heavy dose of Corey Grant? Perhaps.
6) Give the receivers a chance.Bortles' accuracy issues have been well-documented this season. Still, getting the ball to Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson in a position where they can make a play on the ball is key. Then of course, the receivers must …
7) … catch the ball.The Jaguars' offensive struggles this season haven't been all Bortles all the time. Robinson and Allen Hurns both have had some key drops, and Robinson could have made a huge catch that turned into an interception last week against Denver. Bortles needs to do a better job with accuracy, but the receivers must catch it when it gets there.
8) Get a call.This is mostly about Robinson because when you talk about his yardage and receptions being down this season you must acknowledge that he has had an unusual number of potential pass interference penalties not called. It is the belief here that officiating eventually evens out. If that's true, Robinson's going to get a lot of calls moving forward.
9) Maintain the defensive level …The Jaguars have played good-to-very good defense much of the last five weeks. The unit has the look of a group turning into a team strength. A similar effort will be necessary Sunday because the Vikings aren't likely to allow a lot of points by the Jaguars' offense.
9a) … and create a turnover.The Jaguars' turnover margin isn't all on the offense. The team has forced a league-low seven takeaways, five on defense. When the defense talks about the need to make impact plays, this is what it means. Make a play. Turn momentum. Win the game.
10) Play with pride.This hasn't been an issue for the Jaguars much of the season – and the effort has been impressive the last few weeks as the playoffs dwindled from remote possibility to slim possibility to no possibility. A month remains in the season. Can the Jaguars continue to find motivation from within? Here's guessing they can.