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View from the O-Zone: Time to do London right on the field


JACKSONVILLE – Time for a short, international-based respite …

That means moving away from the edgy, irritated buzz around the Jaguars at the present to consider a concept that will matter a lot in the not-so-distant future.

That's right. In this View from the O-Zone we'll talk not about losing streaks, postgame press conferences or missed opportunities. Instead, we'll talk about London, and specifically how the Jaguars need to find a way to turn their "other" home stadium into a home-field advantage.

The Jaguars on Sunday will play a third game at Wembley Stadium in London in as many years, and as Thursday's NFL announcement further showed, that's not changing anytime soon.

Middle linebacker Paul Posluszny gets it.

He also gets the task facing the Jaguars on that front.

"We know we're going to go there every year, so let's take advantage of this," Posluszny said Wednesday. "It's important for the organization, so let's do the job on the field and make it that way."

The NFL and Jaguars Owner Shad Khan on Thursday announced that the Jaguars will play a home game at Wembley until at least 2020. The league has an option to extend that, and all indications are Khan will want the Jaguars to be part of that extension. Khan never made any secret about his desire to be a part of London long-term so Thursday came as little surprise.

The news understandably will irritate some Jaguars fans who equally understandably dislike losing a game at EverBank Field each season, and many understandably wish the team would play all home games in Jacksonville. Wishing won't make this so.

The Jaguars' reality is a London home game is necessary for their local revenue equation, which needs to work for the long-term financial viability of the team. The long-term viability is needed to make the Jaguars work in Jacksonville.

Being strong in London makes the Jaguars stronger in Jacksonville. Khan has said it often in the last couple of years. Jaguars President Mark Lamping has, too. This is the team's course. That course is set for the long-term, and to reiterate what Khan and Lamping have made clear: this isn't about a move to London; it's about a strong base in Jacksonville and a strong, lucrative presence in London.

That's the off-field part of the London initiative.

The start of the on-field part has been rocky at best. The one-sided nature of losses to San Francisco (2013) and Dallas (2014) had infinitely more to do with talent differential than locale, but whatever the cause, losing at Wembley is a trend the Jaguars need to reverse.

NFL home games are valuable, and losing at home puts contending teams at a disadvantage. At some point the Jaguars will contend, and when they do, Wembley needs to feel not a road venue or even a neutral site. It needs to feel like a second home.

One way to make Wembley more of an advantage: develop the London/European fan base, something the Jaguars have done and continue to do. They went from 31st in 2013 to ninth in 2014 terms of NFL popularity in the UK according to an NFL survey; the more they play there – and the more they win anywhere – the more popular they will become there.

That will take time, but it should happen.

Another way to is to figure best how to handle the trip, which is an ongoing process. Traveling to London is a logistical challenge, and those logistics are a huge reason the idea of a permanent team there has lost steam in NFL circles. But if there's no ideal way to move players, coaches and support staff across the Atlantic Ocean, the team is working to find something close to ideal. The Jaguars left for London from Jacksonville on Monday morning in 2013, then left from Cincinnati on a Sunday evening in 2014. This year, the Jaguars will fly Thursday night, thus making the trip as close to a "normal road game" as possible.

Players this week seemed to like the idea of the Thursday getaway.

"I think this year is better," defensive end Ryan Davis said. "We get to stay home and practice how we practice here, which is awesome. It seems a like a regular trip for us. We land there Friday morning, so that's like a normal West Coast trip for us."

And could this be the permanent routine?

"It all depends on how we do Sunday," Davis said with a laugh. "If we go over there and win Sunday, I think you could see this routine a lot more."

And that's the key for the Jaguars: whatever the routine, it needs to become routine. They need to feel comfortable enough that it gives them an edge over an opponent for whom overseas travel and a game at Wembley isn't routine.

That's the task, and it's an important one. When the Jaguars play in Wembley Sunday, for the third time in as many seasons they'll be playing in what essentially is their second home.

Sometime soon, they need to start playing like it.

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