The game between the Jacksonville Jaguars and the New England Patriots has now become a “must win” on Sunday for the home team.
I have said this before and I suppose it bears repeating. I am not one who thinks a football game this early in the NFL season becomes a “must win” situation for any team. But in this case, I am going to change my stance. The Jacksonville Jaguars must win the game on Sunday against the New England Patriots for a myriad of reasons.
Sure, the memories of 3rd-and-18 still linger. People walk around this city with t-shirts reminding everyone that “Myles Jack wasn’t down” like they hang their hats of a rule reversal from a season gone by. Yes, we all remember the referee shaking Tom Brady’s hand after the game.
All those things drive football fans who have become conspiracy theorists crazy. In the end, if the Jaguars had held Brady and the Patriots offense to 17 yards instead of 18 and the defense played better in the last five minutes of the game, there might be a Lombardi Trophy residing inside Bank Field.
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The Jaguars, my home team and the one I cover on a daily basis, have a chance to erase all the pessimism that comes from a tough loss in the AFC Title game eight months ago. For the players in the locker room, they are well aware of the magnitude of this game. For the football writer, who sits in the press box on Sunday, it becomes a great story if the Jaguars win on Sunday.
It becomes a who different story if they lose.
The biggest news inside the walls of the stadium these days is the health of Leonard Fournette, who missed another practice with his hamstring injury. He told the media on Wednesday it is feeling better, however, it still appears to be a game-time decision on whether the second-year back will play.
Fournette was seen jogging on the sideline during practice on Thursday, a good sign of potential things to come. Everyone down here is taking a “wait and see” approach.
"“Even though I’m not practicing I’m still in film every day in the morning,” Fournette said. “Even when I’m doing therapy I’m going through plays.”"
There is Jalen Ramsey, who also met with the media Thursday, preaching this is still an “11 on 11” game. He was still asked about the comment he made about Rob Gronkowski prior to the season in an ESPN article. Ramsey, the third-year cornerback wanted to talk about football, the game this weekend.
"“I am really looking forward to that,” he said. “I know the fans are going to come out, show big support and we definitely feed off their energy when we are out there and the place is rocking. I think it is going to be a good atmosphere. I am excited that this is our home opener.”"
The swagger of Ramsey, combined with the heightened awareness of the national media about this game could make this the biggest game of the year for both teams. One media member told me yesterday, it’s just another football game.
Ramsey said he is not sure if he will be matched up with Gronkowski and will leave that up to the coaching staff.
"“I am going to go out there and do whatever the coaches ask me to do, to be honest. If it happens, it happens. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t. I am very confident in all of my teammates on the defensive side of the ball,” he said. “Whoever goes against him, I am very confident that they will hold it down and I will do my job and hold it down where I am at.”"
There is no doubt fans want to see this kind of confrontation.
It’s hard not to get excited about what the city of Jacksonville will host on Sunday. A packed house, the NFL’s version of the New York Yankees on the field. Electricity in the air with the first home game of the season. The only problem is Jacksonville must win this game.
Like I said earlier this week, taking the next step in the development of this franchise is important.
If the Patriots lose, they go home and prepare for next week. If the Jaguars lose, then they must answer questions of whether this team is for ‘”real” and can they take another step forward.
There are only 16 games in an NFL season. Each game matters more than the one before. The season shrinks at lightning speed. This is one of those games that has a chance to set the tone for the reason of the league.
The Jaguars must be the ones who prove they can handle being the lead dog.
If not, it means another week of questions regarding the validity of this franchise. They have been through that plenty over the past decade.
The organization doesn’t need it, the players don’t need it and the fans don’t need it.
This is the game we all circled on our calendars when the NFL released the 2018 scheduled. We have zeroed in on it for months and talked it up like it’s the Super Bowl. The Jaguars need to play like it’s a championship game. If not, the questions everyone will ask could change the direction of this season in a hurry.