JACKSONVILLE – The Jaguars haven't quit, and they won't likely start now.
That's remarkable considering the circumstances:
*An 11-game losing streak.
*A slew of injuries.
*Three starting quarterbacks in the last six games.
The Jaguars (1-11) have experienced it all and are continuing to experience one of the most difficult seasons in franchise history. Yet, entering a game against the Tennessee Titans (8-4) Sunday, they continue to overcome adversity and play with desire – and as a result, they are perhaps playing as well as they have all season. Consider:
The Jaguars, after losing six games consecutive games by eight or more points entering a Week 8 bye, have lost narrowly in four of five games since. They have played toe-to-toe with three potential playoff teams in that span – losing to Green Bay, Cleveland and Minnesota by a combined nine points with a chance to tie or take the lead in the final three minutes of all three games.
Those recent losses have come as injuries continued to hit the team, particularly on defense. Defensive end Josh Allen remains out, as do cornerbacks CJ Henderson, D.J. Hayden and Chris Claybrooks, safety Daniel Thomas and defensive tackle DaVon Hamilton. But the Jaguars have gotten gutty performances from young players, with wide receiver Collin Johnson among the rookies showing signs of development in recent weeks.
The Jaguars are deep into a difficult second-half schedule. They have played contending teams in each of the last four games. The task gets no easier Sunday against a Titans team that leads the AFC South. Can the Jaguars win? Yes, and there are things they must do to do that.
Here are 10:
1.Stop Henry. Stopping the bruising, stiff-arming running back always is key against the Titans. The Jaguars did this passably well in a Week 2 loss to the Titans in Nashville. They must be at least passable again Sunday.
2.Don't forget Tannehill … The Titans are really good offensively, and quarterback Ryan Tannehill is much more of a key to that – and much better – than many observers realize. The Jaguars realize it. Tannehill threw for a career-high four touchdowns against them in Week 2.
3. … and sure don't forget Brown. The second-year veteran wide receiver is big, strong and fast. He's very dangerous. The Jaguars' young secondary really doesn't have anyone who matches up physically with Brown. Few teams do.
4.Run Robinson. Jaguars rookie free agent running back James Robinson remains remarkably consistent and reliable. The more Robinson is involved the better the Jaguars are playing offensively – and the better their chances of winning for the first time since early September.
5.Keep the tight ends involved. Jaguars tight ends Tyler Eifert and James O'Shaughnessy combined for their most productive game against the Vikings, catching six passes that resulted in first downs between them. Tight end production has been rare for a long time around the Jaguars. Making it less rare for a second consecutive week would be huge Sunday.
6.Keep pressuring. The Jaguars' four sacks against the Vikings last week doubled their previous high for the season. They're pressuring better lately because of effort, want-to and some creative blitzing. Keeping that going is critical against a quarterback as consistent as Tannehill.
7.Protect Glennon … The Jaguars' offensive line is improved from last season. It's better than many believe. But there have been too many instances this season when the group – particularly tackles Cam Robinson and Jawaan Taylor – have allowed pressure at key times. This is a good week to improve here. The Titans have just 14 sacks in 12 games this season.
8. …. and protect the ball. The Jaguars committed four turnovers last week, including two interceptions and a lost fumble by Glennon. It was remarkable the Jaguars got to overtime protecting the ball so poorly. They're unlikely to be so competitive again this season with that many turnovers. They're particularly unlikely to compete against an offense as balanced as that of Tennessee playing that way.
9.Get a lead. The Jaguars haven't done this much this season. They didn't trail against Minnesota in the first half – the first time that had been the case for the Jaguars this season. The result was a competitive game throughout.
10.Make a play late. This is too generic, but the Jaguars have been soooooo close in recent weeks. Sometimes young players don't know how to win. Sometimes, they just need someone to make a big play at a big time. The trick for the Jaguars Sunday will be staying close enough to a balanced Titans offense – and a Titans team that needs a victory for its playoff hopes – to be in range for a big late play to matter. But this is a rivalry game, so … maybe.