JACKSONVILLE – The first thought is to call this a really big game.
On second thought, the first thought doesn't seem strong or bold enough for Jaguars-Titans Thursday. Not from the Jaguars' perspective, anyway.
Yes, the game is big. If they win and other AFC South teams lose then the Jaguars will be a game out of first place and season goals will remain intact … but this game is big beyond that. And it's not big because of Color Rush Thursday – as cool as those bold, gold uniforms may be.
It's not big because of national television, either.
It's big because if the Jaguars ever have needed a game in the Gus Bradley/David Caldwell era, it's this one. And yes, it's big because there are some things stacked against them, but mostly because it feels like a crisis point.
Players resisted calling it that this week because 10 games remain – and because players are geared not to think that way. But if this isn't a crisis, it sure feels close.
"I think this game is very critical," wide receiver Allen Hurns said as the Jaguars (2-4) prepared to play the Tennessee Titans (3-4) at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tennessee, Thursday at 8:25 p.m. "The season hasn't been going well. We won two games prior to the last one, but I think this game will be very crucial. One, because it's a division game — but it's just time."
Middle linebacker Paul Posluszny agreed.
"I don't want to say crisis, but we definitely feel like it's very, very important to go out and prove what our style of football is really like," Posluszny said.
The Jaguars are 2-4 and that by no means makes a season lost in the NFL. A 2-5 record is different, but Thursday is about more than records and standings. That's true even though a Jaguars victory and a loss by the Texans indeed would pull the Jaguars to within a very manageable half-game in the division.
No, the importance goes beyond the record.
It's about some long-term stuff, and while one game in the NFL isn't always an accurate gauge for long-term stuff, this one feels like it could have those ramifications.
This team is 14-40 under Head Coach Gus Bradley, and even understanding that the first two or three seasons were next to impossible because of the nature of the rebuild, the 7-15 record over the past two seasons is becoming equally unsightly. Eventually, a coach must win. This is obvious, and the time is now.
There also was the way last Sunday looked, particularly at game's end. Multiple unsportsmanlike conduct penalties threw into sharp light the penalty/discipline issues that have plagued the team since preseason. Two fourth-quarter ejections by two key players – defensive tackle Malik Jackson and cornerback Jalen Ramsey – only sharpened the light.
Bradley on Monday discussed the fourth quarter of the Raiders game, calling it unacceptable and a reflection on him as a head coach and the culture he has created. That's unfortunate because Bradley has created a phenomenal culture. This is a place players want to play; that wasn't the case in the seasons before his arrival. Never in Bradley's four seasons has the locker room fragmented. Players affection for and desire to play for Bradley never has been a question.
One ugly quarter doesn't define fragmentation, but the Jaguars not only must win Thursday, they need to look like a team playing in better control – with better discipline. That's a have-to.
Another have-to is better quarterback play.
Of all the storylines around this this week – ejections, discipline, Allen Robinson's Wembley Stadium comments and defense-altering loss of defensive tackle Roy Miller for the season – none matter nearly as much as the play of the quarterback.
Blake Bortles is struggling. It's maybe not fair to say he has struggled all season. He played better in victories over Indianapolis and Chicago than people seem to remember. He has had good moments. But the Raiders loss was not such a moment, and Bortles' storyline right now is a struggling quarterback who for the first time is being questioned over whether or not he is a franchise one.
One game, win or lose, won't answer that question. It's of too big and broad a scope to be decided in a game – even one on national television featuring cool uniforms.
One game won't cure all that ails the Jaguars, either, but it would help.
"We've been having this talk about being consistent, and turning things around," Hurns said. "It's time to start doing it. Not much to say."
It indeed is that time – past time, actually. Crisis point or not, that makes Thursday feel awfully close to a have-to.