JACKSONVILLE – The theme is familiar – maybe too familiar.
The Jaguars absolutely can win Sunday. It's not too strong to say they should win. Mostly, they must win. They can re-establish momentum, hope and a bunch of other cool things if they do. There are very negative ramifications if they don't.
If this sounds more-than-vaguely familiar, it's because the Jaguars have been here before lately. They were here two weeks ago and they were here a lot last season.
The Jaguars' scenario Sunday in Chicago breaks down as follows:
Win, and they're a game from .500 and very much alive in a tightly-bunched AFC South. Lose?
Not that the Jaguars were thinking about the latter scenario this week. No, as they came off a Week 5 bye with a Week 4 victory over Indianapolis prominent in the memory, conversation around the Jaguars as they prepared for the Bears was about the benefits of winning.
A brighter outlook. Lighter steps.
Indeed, hope and happiness reigns at EverBank Field this week.
"Winning eases the mind," Jaguars tight end Julius Thomas said Wednesday.
Indeed – and no question the Jaguars team preparing for the 1-4 Bears is one with a positive outlook. If all minds aren't eased, exactly, they are confident. Yes, they are 1-3. Yes, there is an innate knowledge that they should be better than that.
But there also is a real confidence that hope is not lost – that the mistakes that led to losses in two winnable games have not ended the season, that there is still time and ability to be the team players and coaches believed entering the season it could be.
"We can get back on track," middle linebacker Paul Posluszny said.
Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley mentioned that this week when discussing what he knows about his team now that he didn't know a month ago.
"I like our mentality of our team coming out [of the bye]," Bradley said. "I mentioned that before, but it just feels different out there. I mentioned before you are sick and tired of being sick and tired. It just feels different.
"This team is like, 'OK, you know what? We had some things go our way, some things that didn't. We understand what took place. You know what? Let's take this now. We just came off a bye week and let's get this going here a little bit and really see some progress made in some of the things we know we need to get corrected.'
"It just seems like a real tight focus that way."
It's oh-so-true that the Jaguars have been here before, and its oh-so true that you've read and heard similar quotes before – both from players and coaches. The Jaguars' situation this week in fact feels quite similar to last year.
Remember? Last season? Time and time again the Indianapolis Colts and Houston Texans lost games that kept the Jaguars in the AFC South race despite a sub-.500 record.
Well, here they are again because the Jaguars indeed are very much in the division race despite their record. That was only made clearer this past week when the Texans' loss to the Minnesota Vikings moved the Jaguars to within a game and a half of first place.
What's different this year compared to last? Posluszny, in his sixth season with the organization, was asked that question this week.
"The talent level is obviously the best I've been around, but the [big difference is] we all realize how close we are," he said. "It's a game of inches. In years past maybe it was, 'Well, we'll find a way.' Now, it's, 'OK, this is exactly what we have to do in order to make all of those inches go our way.'
"It's a very determined, very focused group."
That's it, really – that's the mindset of this Jaguars team as they exit the bye. They have seen enough to validate their beliefs, and whatever outsiders believe or say, they believe they can win. And if you look beyond the record, there is evidence to support the belief. The defense played its best game of the season the week before the bye. The running game also had its best game of the season. Ditto quarterback Blake Bortles, who had his first turnover-free game of the season in that 30-27 London victory over the Colts.
Somewhere in that Colts game perhaps is the Jaguars' formula to turn optimistic, determined, focused hope into tangible victories rather than frustrating losses.
The Jaguars without question believe that's the case and that's without question this week's all-too familiar theme. This team believes it's good and the Jaguars can prove it in the coming weeks.
They're right. They can win, and probably should win. If they do, there's a whole lot of good that can happen. And if not? Ugh.