JACKSONVILLE – Call this a "cool-to-win" game.
Is that OK? Does that work?
Because "cool to win" sure feels like the way to describe the Jaguars' game with the Pittsburgh Steelers at TIAA Bank Field Sunday – and we pretty much have to call it something along those lines.
Critical, important, must-win …
Those descriptions worked for many Jaguars games the last two seasons, and they kept working right up until wide receiver Rashad Greene Sr.'s late-game lost fumble ended the Jaguars' chances in what became the Jaguars' fifth-consecutive loss last Sunday.
That loss to the Indianapolis Colts dropped the Jaguars (3-6) three games behind the AFC South-leading Houston Texans (6-3), and it also dropped them to fourth place in the division behind Houston, the Tennessee Titans and Indianapolis. Those three teams are hot, and the Jaguars are not.
The Jaguars are also 12th in the AFC standings, and that's more than low enough to stop talking about must-win games for a while.
As for Sunday's game against the Steelers … boy, it would be cool for the Jaguars to win.
It would be cool for the Jaguars to beat the Steelers a third consecutive time, and a third time in two seasons. It would be cool to snap a five-game losing streak. It would be cool to have a good postgame feeling for the first time in a while. It would be cool to show a few more times this season that this group is good enough to play with the best teams, and it would be cool if one of those times was a home game against a team that still sorta, kinda feels close to a rivalry.
So, yeah … Cool to win.
That's OK. That works.
Here are 10 things the Jaguars must do Sunday to do it:
1.Pressure Ben Roethlisberger. The Jaguars' defense hasn't registered sacks or takeaways near the pace it did last season. Whatever. Getting to Big Ben and getting the ball loose – or catching an errant pass or two – is key Sunday.
2.Score defensively. Remember? Two interception returns for touchdowns in a 30-9 regular-season victory at Pittsburgh last season? A fumble recovery for a touchdown in a 45-42 postseason victory there? Yeah … something like that.
3.Don't fumble late in a half. Or a game. Fumbles by wide receivers have crushed the Jaguars in recent weeks. Keelan Cole's fumble late in the first half against Philadelphia cost the Jaguars momentum and the lead. Rashad Greene Sr.'s fumble late in the game cost the Jaguars a chance to tie or take the lead in Indianapolis. It's very possible the Jaguars would be 5-4 without those fumbles. They must stop.
4.Feel the teal. Teal's a big deal around these parts this week. It seemed worth mentioning.
5.Stay turnover-free. Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles hasn't committed a turnover since losing two fumbles and being benched in the second half of a Week 7 loss to Houston. The Jaguars have had chances to win in the fourth quarter of both games since. That's no coincidence.
6.Make a big play. Even with the return of running back Leonard Fournette last week, the Jaguars' running game – and the offense overall – doesn't have the feel of being able to consistently put together long touchdown drives. Key against the Colts was an 80-yard touchdown pass from Bortles to wide receiver Donte Moncrief. The Jaguars haven't had enough of those plays, but some of their best offensive games – victories over the New York Jets and New England Patriots and the loss to the Colts – have featured some of their biggest plays. That's also no coincidence.
7.Run Fournette – and hope he can open it up. Even if he's not effective, the Jaguars must run the second-year running back. He's the identity of the offense, and the offense looks most comfortable when it's centered around him. The hope this week is that Fournette can go 100 percent on his hamstring. He appeared to be protecting it a bit last week after missing four consecutive games. The closer he gets to going full out, the better.
8.Be back-centric – and productive. Jaguars running backs produced 182 yards offense against the Colts last week. The team's 26 points in the game were their most since late September. Backs are critical to this offense. If they're not producing, the Jaguars are in trouble.
9.Play your assignments. The Jaguars' loss to the Colts last Sunday came amid a slew of avoidable, unacceptable blown coverages in the first half. Roethlisberger and this Steelers offense are too good to give them free points. That's true of most NFL teams.
10.Believe – and maintain hope. You're not out of the playoffs until you're out of the playoffs – and the Jaguars aren't yet out of the playoffs. The Jaguars aren't eliminated yet. As long as that's true, it's OK to use hope as motivation.