JACKSONVILLE – The end draws near, and what the Jaguars don’t want is a fizzling finish.
So, while a victory over the Tennessee Titans won’t change how we see this season, and while it won’t erase the memory a lot of disappointment, winning is still very much the Jaguars’ objective in the regular-season finale.
That’s as it should be.
Win or lose Sunday, the Jaguars are going to have one of the first two selections in the NFL Draft. If they lose Sunday and the Kansas City Chiefs win, the Jaguars get the No. 1 overall selection in April. If anything else happens, the Chiefs will get the No. 1 selection.
But even if that wasn’t the case, you play to win. One reason is you just, plain play to win in the NFL. You do that, then worry about the uncertain process that is the NFL Draft at a later date.
The other is that even if you’re one to believe it’s better to lose and play for draft positioning, this isn’t a year in which that makes much sense. There doesn’t seem to be much difference in the top selections next year.
So, on Sunday, just like the other 15 Sundays, you play to win. You do because it’s the right thing, and because this year, there’s no reason not to.
And because that’s what you do, here are 10 things the Jaguars must do Sunday to beat the Titans:
1. Stop Chris Johnson. Johnson isn’t the NFL’s most consistent running back, and he’s not the NFL’s best running back, but he might be the NFL’s most dangerous running back. That’s because he’s as capable of breaking the big run as any running back – maybe ever. You can stop Johnson all game, but if you get out of your gap once, he can turn the game around. Stop him, but you have to do it every play.
2. Stay focused. That’s not easy. There was the distraction this week of Christmas, and family in town and everything else that the holidays bring. Then, there’s all the Tebow talk and the talk of possible offseason change . . . and well, there’s just a lot going on. None of it matters. There’s one more game. Prepare, plan and play to win.
4. Pressure Jake Locker. Remember last week? The Jaguars pressured Tom Brady, and did an admirable job limiting one of the NFL’s best offenses. That’s what three sacks and a lot of hurries can do to even the NFL’s best quarterbacks. Do it against Locker, and you’ll probably get better results.
5. Catch the ball... We’ve been saying it and saying it and saying it – we’re too close to the end of the season to stop now.
6. Keep the turnovers coming. The Jaguars have struggled to create turnovers all season. Sometimes, it was because they weren’t in position to make plays. Other times, it was because they made errors when they had the chance. Either way, they forced two turnovers against New England early, and those takeaways were the impetus to one of the best games of the season. Create more this week, and this is a winnable game.
7. Run. The Jaguars have had two games in which they’ve run for 100 or more yards. They won both games, including a home victory over the Titans when they ran for exactly 100. Hitting 100 guarantees nothing, but obviously doesn’t hurt.
8. Get up early. The Titans were blown out by the Packers last week. Earlier in the year, when they got beaten by the Bears by a similar margin, they blew out the Dolphins the following week. They did that by forcing turnovers and getting ahead early. Turn that around. Get up. Take away the Titans’ confidence early.
9. Remember the Titans. Yes, we used this in the three keys to victory on the Mike Mularkey show, but while it’s a cliché of a title, it was a heck of a movie. And it’s pertinent this week. The Jaguars beat the Titans in November. They won a close game, but for a lot of that game, they were the better team. Remember that, and play like it.
10. Don’t fizzle. There was a good feeling in the locker room after a loss to the Patriots Sunday. Not a great feeling, and not a satisfied feeling, but the team knew it played well and came within a breath of an upset. You don’t need to upset the Titans, but you need to play well and play hard to win. Do that, and you have a chance to enter the offseason with a good feeling. That won’t save the season, or anything close, but it’s better than the alternative.