If the Jacksonville Jaguars are going to beat the New England Patriots in a rematch of the AFC Title game from last season, these four things must happen.
Try to tell Jacksonville Jaguars fans this is just another game and watch their response. There is such a buzz in the city. Listening to the local sports talk radio shows and you hear the excitement in the hosts’ voices.
Yes, this is a big game for a city that has been struggling to find NFL relevance for many years.
Like I said earlier this week, a local sports writer told me this is just like every other game. The players in the locker room have tried to downplay the significance. The coaching staff has gone about their gameplan like it’s just another game.
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But reality sets in at some point and a football nation knows this isn’t just a football. The opponent isn’t just another team. These are the New England Patriots.
This is a dynasty walking into TIAA Bank Field and the fans have long-term memories of a game that slipped away from this franchise eight months ago.
In just the second week of the 2018 NFL season, this has become the game all NFL fans want to see.
If the Jacksonville Jaguars are going to beat the New England Patriots and take their place amongst the best teams in this league, these four things must happen.
First Down – Don’t allow the moment to take over the game
When quarterback Blake Bortles talked to the media on Wednesday, he was asked about the magnitude of this game. The fifth-year pro was his usual self, preaching how this game is just as important as every other contest.
But you could sense he knows what this game means to the team and the community.
"“I look at it as an opportunity as our first home game to play in front of our fans against a really good football team in the Patriots, rather than a revenge game or anything like that,” he said. “Week  and we have won six in a row at home so to get an opportunity to pick that streak back up and get it going again is exciting.”"
Exciting isn’t half of it. The Jaguars must play a controlled game in a rowdy environment. The Patriots have been in plenty of these situations. This team, collectively, has not. Playing with the Patriots and not against them will help this “David vs. Goliath” feel many national media members have proclaimed this game to be.
Second Down – Stick to the Running Game
Whether or not Leonard Fournette laces up his cleats this afternoon, the Jacksonville Jaguars must continue to do what they are built for. Pound the ball inside the tackles.
That means it’s “next man up” with T.J. Yeldon getting the call if Fournette is not ready to play. Yeldon, a fourth-year back from Alabama, led the Jaguars in rushing his rookie season with 740 yards and is more than capable of breaking off a 100-yard performance.
Also, the Jaguars cannot rely on the passing game the entire contest. Corey Grant should become a bigger part of this week’s gameplan. Per Jaguars.com, Offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett said Thursday he expects the Jaguars’ passing game – and offense overall – to improve moving forward.
"“As an offense, we need to play better,” Hackett said."
That means the team must convert on third down and must be more effective on first and second down while running the football. Ball control against a Tom Brady-led team is crucial to Jacksonville’s success.
Third Down – Defense, Defense, Defense
You get the idea. The Jaguars defense looked like world-beaters in the first half of the AFC Title game against New England last season. A lot of that had to do with defensive end Dante Fowler, who had two sacks of Tom Brady in the game.
Fowler makes his return to the team after serving a one-game suspension last week. I think this is a game he circled on his calendar when the schedule came out. It could be his break-out game and his message to the NFL he is still a terror on the outside.
Defensive coordinator Todd Wash met with the media on Thursday and reiterated this game is against one of the best teams in the NFL. Playing against someone like tight end Rob Gronkowski, who is tough to defend and Brady, who makes playing the quarterback position look like child’s play will be a tough task.
"“We make mistakes each and every game, and it’s a situation where if you make a mistake in this one he’s going to find it,” Wash said via Jaguars.com. “He’s one of the few who won’t miss them. We have to make sure we’re on point doing exactly what we need to do and execute every play.”"
The pass rush and the coverage in the secondary have to be spot on this afternoon.
Fourth Down – Don’t Play Conservative Football
What I mean by this is the Jaguars must play to win and not to lose.
So much is still made of this team’s lack of push at the end of the first half of the game in January where a conservative Jaguars did not try to score more at the end of the second quarter.
Jacksonville only gained 305 total yards in the first game of the season against the New York Giants. The offense must pick up the tempo. The wide receivers must catch the football. Long drives that extend the clock are vital.
"As John Oehser wrote, “The Jaguars rushed for 137 yards but had 168 yards passing with the team’s four active receivers combining for 119 total yards. Second-year veteran Dede Westbrook led all Jaguars receivers with five receptions for 51 yards, with second-year veteran Keelan Cole catching three passes for 54 yards. Fifth-year veteran Donte Moncrief had one reception for 14 yards.”"
The passing game, when called upon, must step up. This could also mean a bigger role this week for tight end Austin Sefarian-Jenkins, who should be a matchup problem for the Patriots secondary and linebackers.