JACKSONVILLE – This one's big – really, really big. How big? Must-win big?
Yeah. That big.
That's what winning two of the last three games has done for the Jaguars – and the struggles of the three other AFC South teams hasn't hurt, either.
The Jaguars, after losing four consecutive September and October games – including three in succession on the road – have won two of their last three games. That included a victory over the Buffalo Bills in London and an improbable, controversial victory in Baltimore this past week.
It's not a winning streak. Not yet. But it has been enough to get the Jaguars to 3-6. That is enough to have them a game behind the Indianapolis Colts and Houston Texans, who are tied for the division lead at 4-5.
Which brings us to Thursday's game against the Tennessee Titans at EverBank Field.
The Titans (2-7) will be playing their third game under interim head coach Mike Mularkey, who coached the Jaguars to a 2-14 record in 2012. If the Jaguars win Thursday, they will be a half game out with three extra days to prepare for the following Sunday's home game against the San Diego Chargers.
If they lose … well, let's just say this has a "must-win" feel. Yeah, it's that big.
Here are 10 things the Jaguars must do to beat the Titans Thursday:
1)Be Bold.Yeah, this is a nod to the whole "Bold Rush" theme at the 'Bank Thursday, and if that's sucking up a bit to the folks in marketing … you know what? So what? The Jaguars do need to be bold Thursday. They haven't taken and held control of a game yet this season. They're coming home for a second time in 61 days, and the crowd should be ready. *Really, really *ready. So … "Be Bold?" Yeah, why not?
2)Forget the standings …Yes, the Jaguars are a game out of the division lead. But while it's fine for we who follow and write about the team to think about the "p-word," it's too early for players to consider it. Play. Go win a second consecutive game. Let the rest of the stuff take care of itself.
3)… and forget Sen'Derrick, too …for now, anyway. Sen'Derrick Marks, the Jaguars' sacks leader on the field last season and the leader off the field the last three seasons, is out for the season with a torn triceps. His return to form in recent weeks from offseason knee surgery had bolstered the run defense big-time. Someone else must do the bolstering now. Stopping the run means everything to this defense. It can't get weaker there.
4)Make makeables. Sure, we said this last week the Jaguars couldn't win without making makeable field goals – then they won in Baltimore despite Jason Myers punching a 26-yard field goal wide left. Still, it took a late-game miracle and a 53-yard field goal to overcome Myers' miss, and the bottom line remains the same: this team isn't good enough to win leaving points on the field.
5)Cover kicks.This area has been "ugh" way too much this season. Teams with small margins for error need special teams "wows" not "oh nos."
6)Get Julius Thomas involved – or Marqise Lee.Either one would be fine. The offense has depended on Allen Hurns and Allen Robinson all year. They have responded, but another weapon or two will make this offense really hard to stop.
7)Stop the tight end.How long has this been a Jaguars pregame theme? Well, the theme continues. The Titans' wide receivers have struggled this season and tight end Delanie Walker leads the Titans with 45 receptions for 508 yards and three touchdowns. The Ravens' tight ends two touchdowns last week were no aberration. Thomas must be covered, and as well as whoever else is playing tight end for the Titans.
8)Contain Mariota – and force mistakes.Pressuring Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota won't be easy. Not only has pass rush been a problem for the Jaguars, the Titans' have protected well in recent weeks. But if the Jaguars can't pressure, they must contain. And when they do pressure, they must focus on getting the ball out. Mariota has had fumble issues at times this season.
9)Get through it.Thursdays are tough. Injured players get little time to rest, and Jaguars players such as running back T.J. Yeldon, linebacker Dan Skuta, defensive tackle Michael Bennett, safety James Sample and wide receiver Allen Hurns are uncertain to varying degrees this week. That's tough, but it's the nature of Thursday. Gut it out, get a victory and the weekend off will seem like a bye.
10)Get the crowd involved.Prime-time … a meaningful November game … Bold Rush … gold unis … gold shoes, even. The atmosphere will be cool and the EverBank faithful have waited for a meaningful November game for a long time … like, a *really *long time. They're ready to cheer. They're ready to put the Jaguars on their collective back if need. An early takeaway, an early touchdown … something. Just give them a reason to believe. And to be bold.