JACKSONVILLE – When it’s this obvious, you needn’t say it.
Myles Jack did anyway.
“It’s a thousand percent must-win,” the third-year linebacker said Wednesday when discussing the Jaguars’ game against the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis Sunday.
“We can’t lose another game.”
Yes, it may be just the midway point, but this is the nature of this often-frustrating, not-what-anyone-expected, injury-plagued, always-baffling 2018 Jaguars season:
The Jaguars must win Sunday – if not statistically in all other ways.
“The margin for error is a lot slimmer than it’s ever been,” defensive end Calais Campbell said.
Such was the mood around TIAA Bank Field on an urgent early November Wednesday.
It was a day with a sense of a fresh start: the first Wednesday after a much-needed bye, the kickoff to the second half of the season. With eight games remaining, plenty of season remains and there may be plenty for which to play.
Tainting that fresh feeling: a 3-5 record and two-and-a-half-game deficit in the AFC South. That doesn’t make the division race over, but it makes it something the Jaguars needn’t think about until they do some winning and the 6-3 Houston Texans do some losing – neither of which has happened since September.
“We know we still have a chance,” quarterback Blake Bortles said. “We have to play really well for the whole second half of the season in order to go where we want to go. I don’t think you can look at it as a whole, as eight games. It is one game at a time.”
The Jaguars’ chances for an AFC wild-card berth seem more realistic, but the Jaguars’ biggest reality is their most immediate task – and that’s simply playing well enough to win a game.
“We’ve just got to win – whatever that means,” Jack said. “However you have to win, win. That’s pretty much what we have to do is get a win. At the end of the day, that solves everything.”
The Jaguars didn’t do that in October, losing all four games and scoring just two field goals in four first halves. They trailed at halftime in all four games, and never regained the lead in any of the four.
The Jaguars’ offensive struggles have been well-documented. A unit decimated by injuries at receiver, offensive line, tight end and running back ranks 24th in the NFL in rushing this season after ranking first in the category last season, and the week’s major storyline is the possible return of a player who perhaps could give the area a second-half lift.
That’s running back Leonard Fournette, whose hamstring kept him out six of the last seven games – and every game in October. He practiced Monday and Wednesday, posting a message on his Instagram account this week indicating he will play.
Fournette’s return probably can’t cure all that ails a struggling offense, but neither can it hurt.
“He is our guy,” Bortles said. “I know everyone is fired up to have him back in the lineup. I know I am excited to watch him run. I know guys are excited to block for him and see him go. We got so used to him doing his thing last year and watching that and being able to do everything off of that, so not having him has made us change some of the things we do.
“To be able to have him back healthy and ready to go is exciting.”
Fournette’s not the only player who could return this week. Cornerbacks D.J. Hayden and Tyler Patmon have practiced this week, as has tight end James O’Shaughnessy. The bye also gave several members of an offensive line that played through injuries – a group that included high-priced offseason acquisition Andrew Norwell – needed time to get closer to full health; on Wednesday, the Jaguars’ injury report was offensive lineman-free for the first time this season.
Therein lies the hope for the second half of the season, perhaps:
Perhaps the return of Fournette along with the presence of running backs Carlos Hyde and T.J. Yeldon can revive the running-backs-oriented offense. Perhaps that will help Bortles rediscover the form he showed last season that has been too elusive this season. Perhaps even the slightest uptick in offensive efficiency can put the Jaguars’ defense in position to more resemble last season’s disruptive, creative unit that was so critical to the team’s first division title in 18 years.
Still, the Jaguars on Wednesday weren’t thinking division title, or playoffs.
Instead, they spoke of what they should be discussing – doing something, anything, to win for the first time in six weeks. They also spoke of needing to do that now, not later.
“[Coach Marrone] talked about it all week and all last week – you have to win one to get it rolling,” Bortles said. “That is all anyone is really focused on right now.”
That’s indeed the focus. The only focus. A thousand percent …