JACKSONVILLE – This has been weird week around the Jaguars.
Leonard Fournette knows this, but the Jaguars' third-year running back knows something else just as certainly: Sunday's game against the Cincinnati Bengals?
It's critical – and it's the first of a couple of important back-to-back games for this franchise.
"The next two games, AFC opponents … they're must wins," Fournette said Thursday as the Jaguars (2-4) prepared to play the Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati, Ohio, Sunday at 1 p.m.
Fournette's thoughts on the next two games are part of this Thursday update, which also includes an update on tight end Josh Oliver and defensive coordinator Todd Wash's thoughts on Tuesday's trade of cornerback Jalen Ramsey. But Fournette's thoughts on the next two games are important considering the team's 2-4 record and third-place standing in the AFC South.
The Jaguars not only play the 0-6 Bengals Sunday, they play the 1-4 New York Jets the following week. For a Jaguars team that has lost to its four opponents with winning records and beaten its two opponents with losing records, the two games represent a chance to even its record before a Week 9 home game against the AFC South-leading Houston Texans (4-2) at Wembley Stadium in London.
"We've got to get to that .500 mark," Fournette said. "We know what to expect. We just have to come out and compete, finish and find ways to win. That's the biggest thing we have to do. We've come up short in a lot of games in the past: some by two points, some by three points, some by a touchdown.
"We just have to find ways."
Fournette during his weekly media availability Thursday also discussed the week's weirdness – i.e., the Ramsey trade. Fournette during the session answered several questions about the Bengals before addressing Ramsey's departure without being asked.
"I know everybody wants to talk about Jalen: that's tough," Fournette said. "It's tough to see a guy like that leave. In spite of what everybody's saying, he played a mega-role in the defense."
Fournette portrayed the outspoken Ramsey as the spiritual leader of a defense that ranked in the Top 10 in the NFL in yards allowed in all three seasons Ramsey played with the team.
"As far as the attitude the defense had, all of that started with him," Fournette said. "The trash-talking, that started with him. That carried on on the defense. To me, that's just a tough loss. I can't cut it. That's a tough one now."
Also around the Jaguars Thursday:
*Wash on the defense without Ramsey, who missed the last three games before the trade with a back injury: "We're still going to be our single safety, just kind of like we've been the last couple of weeks, three weeks, without Jalen. But obviously, there has to be some tweaks and some changes when you let a player like that go to another team. We're going to have to change some things up and make sure that we're still putting our guys in position to make plays, that's the most important thing." Wash, who coached Ramsey since the player entered the NFL as the No. 5 overall selection in the 2016 NFL Draft, called the trade "tough. Jalen's a very, very good football player. He's really matured over the last three years. It's been a joy coaching him when he's been here the last couple years. Obviously, we wish him nothing but the best. I liked having him out there on Sunday. But, like everybody's saying, it was the best thing for the organization right now and we wish him nothing but the best. I talked to him the night that the trade happened, he was in good spirits and we wish him nothing but the best." …
*Oliver, a rookie third-round tight end from San Jose State, practiced full for the first time since sustaining a significant hamstring injury early in training camp. He missed the entire preseason and the first six games of the regular season, returning to practice on a limited basis the past three weeks. Head Coach Doug Marrone had said in recent weeks Oliver wouldn't play until he practiced full, making Thursday a milestone day in his attempt to return. Marrone is expected to update injuries and statuses when he meets with the media following practice early Friday afternoon. "We have a plan for everything – if Josh is ready to go, if he's not ready to go," offensive coordinator John DeFilippo said Thursday. "We have a plan for everything." Oliver's return is important because the team has been without tight end James O'Shaughnessy since the veteran sustained a torn anterior cruciate ligament in a Week 5 loss at Carolina. Tight end Geoff Swaim missed a second consecutive practice Thursday in the concussion protocol after a violent hit to the head in a loss to New Orleans Sunday. …
*Veteran wide receiver Marqise Lee missed practice for a second consecutive day with an ankle injury sustained against New Orleans, and wide receiver Dede Westbrook was limited Thursday with a shoulder injury after practicing Wednesday. Safety Cody Davis practiced limited with a hamstring injury after missing practice Wednesday. Center Brandon Linder practiced Thursday after receiving his weekly veteran day off Wednesday, with defensive end Calais Campbell limited in practice for rest purposes Thursday following a veteran day off Wednesday. …