JACKSONVILLE – New week, familiar storyline.
And as we reach the midpoint of this optimistic, tantalizing 2017 season, the storyline is well-known to anyone around the Jaguars – players, coaches, fans, etc.: The time to do this is now.
Not someday. Not next week. Not in a few weeks.
"Out of the bye week, you come out with a bang – always," Jaguars defensive end Calais Campbell said Wednesday as the Jaguars (4-3) prepared to play the Cincinnati Bengals (3-4) at EverBank Field Sunday at 1 p.m. "I expect us to come out with a full head of steam."
That indeed is the expectation:
That the '17 Jaguars – good enough at times to be playoff contenders, messy enough at other times make their fans legitimately nervous entering any game – will start showing themselves to be more the former team than the latter.
They must start winning at EverBank Field. They must start winning consecutive games. They must start playing every week like the team they believe themselves to be.
Not someday. Not next week. Not in a few weeks. Now.
"It's very important," cornerback A.J. Bouye said. "You don't want to go into January looking back at some of the games and having it where other teams control your destiny. You don't want to look back and say, 'We should have won this game, won that game.'
"We're already doing that coming out of the bye week. Now we have control week-in, week-out. We're going to play good teams back-to-back-to-back, and we have to take advantage of all those, and it starts this week with Cincy."
"It is huge," quarterback Blake Bortles said. "We want to be able to come back and win at home. We talk about it all the time – stacking up one after another and it starts with doing it once. We have done that. We had our bye week and now we get a chance to continue what we are doing."
How good are the Jaguars? Certainly good enough to finish above .500 for the first time since 2007. Good enough to make the postseason for the first time since the same season. Good enough to win a division for the first time since 1999. The first seven weeks have shown those goals to be reasonable. Teams don't reel off 20-plus victories four times in seven weeks if they're incapable of winning now.
But being good enough to do something is one thing; doing it is another. Doing it means following up an impressive victory with another victory, and doing it means winning in Jacksonville. Those are two things the Jaguars haven't done this season.
They had a chance to do both in Week 2 – and didn't.
They had another chance to do both in Week 6 – and didn't.
Those misses loom large, and they make this week matter a lot. The Jaguars entered last week's bye on a high; a 27-0 victory at Indianapolis was as thorough as earlier victories over Houston, Baltimore and Pittsburgh. It showed again the Jaguars' potential.
But what the Jaguars haven't done is string victories together. Good, mature teams do that. Good, mature teams win consistently at home. Good, mature teams take advantage of stretches like the one coming up in November. The next two opponents, the Bengals and San Diego Chargers, are worthy opponents. They have experienced weapons – particularly at quarterback – who know how to win late in the season.
Still, these are winnable games. The Jaguars are at home. The Bengals and Chargers are both under .500, and these are types of games the Jaguars need to win if they're as good as they believe themselves to be.
I asked Campbell this week if there was a belief among players that the Jaguars were better than their record. He didn't hesitate.
"Without a doubt," Campbell said. "We're better than our record for sure. We have to become a consistent team. It will happen. It's a focus. It's a mentality. It's coming."
And yes, that makes Sunday's game big. Really big.
"You never want to start talking playoffs too early, but in the thick of things every game is critical to that future success," Campbell said. "We're trying to win the division and we know our division has talented teams who aren't going to make it easy. For us to win it, we have to win these AFC games.
"Coming out of the bye, at home – this is a very important game for us."
No, Sunday against the Bengals won't be easy. It won't mean the end of anything if the Jaguars don't win. But it's the sort of game the Jaguars need to start winning if they're going to get where they want to go. Not someday. Not next week. Not in a few weeks.