JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — The Jacksonville Jaguars used their bye week to ponder the team’s precarious position.
Mired in a four-game losing streak and being 0-2 in the AFC South, they came to this conclusion: They must win at division rival Indianapolis (3-5) on Sunday.
It’s essentially a playoff atmosphere for Jacksonville (3-5) in early November.
“This is a thousand percent a must-win,” linebacker Myles Jack said Wednesday. “No. 1, it’s a conference game that we’ve got to win. And then we’re on a four-game losing streak, so we can’t lose another game.”
NFL teams are usually reluctant to put too much emphasis on any one game, especially in the middle of the season. But for the Jaguars, who openly talked about having Super Bowl aspirations , they understand another loss or two likely would end their dwindling playoff hopes.
“We put ourselves in this situation,” quarterback Blake Bortles said. “We created this small margin for error by not winning football games. We’ve put ourselves here. We know we still got a chance and we’ve got to play really well for the whole second half of the season to go where we want to go.”
The Jags are counting on running back Leonard Fournette’s return making a significant difference.
Fournette missed six of the last seven games with a strained right hamstring. He practiced in full for the first time in more than a month Monday and did the same Wednesday.
Jacksonville built its offense around Fournette and hasn’t been nearly as physical or effective without him. The team signed Jamaal Charles for a week and then traded for Carlos Hyde in hopes of filling the void, but neither move paid dividends.
Coach Doug Marrone said he lost faith in his offensive line in London, specifically in short-yardage situations, but has since stopped short of proclaiming Fournette the team’s savior.
Players, though, believe Fournette’s return could be a turning point.
“I know everybody’s fired up to have him back in the lineup,” Bortles said. “I know I’m excited to watch him run. I know guys are excited to block for him and kind of see him go. We got so used to him doing his thing last year and watching that and do everything off of that. Not having him has made us change some of the things we do, but to be able to have him back and healthy and ready to go is exciting.”
Marrone evaluated coaches, players and schemes during the bye week, but decided not to make any wholesale changes. He tweaked the schedule significantly, mostly so guys wouldn’t feel like things were the same after the break.
“It’s just kind of like the atmosphere is a little tighter,” Jack said. “Obviously, everybody is — I wouldn’t say desperate — but we just need (a victory). It’s a must-win week. As the weeks go on, it just gets worse and worse. Hopefully this is the week we change it.”
With the sense of urgency on the rise, the Jaguars have started to unravel.
There was a locker room scuffle last month following a loss to Houston, a players-only meeting the next day and then a run-in with London police over an unsettled nightclub tab.
They have eight games left to save the season. It starts with a “must-win game” against the Colts, who have won two in a row.
“I don’t think you can look at it as a whole eight games — ‘we’ve got to win eight games in a row or six out of the eight,'” Bortles said. “Obviously, playing Indy is a division game, and that’s an important one.
“It’s kind of like Doug talked about all week and all last week: you’ve got to win one to get it rolling. It’s all anyone’s really focused on right now.”