Inside Slant

The Sports Xchange

November 08, 2018 at 1:32 am.

Return of RB Fournette welcome

Coming off their annual Bye Week, the Jacksonville Jaguars are at the make-or-break point in their 2018 season.

Few people expected such a label for the Jaguars, not this early in the season. After playing in the AFC Championship game a year ago, Jacksonville was considered one of the top contenders to represent the AFC in this year’s Super Bowl. But after a disastrous four-game losing streak that has left them on the edge of elimination for this year’s playoffs, the Jaguars are in a near must-win situation for almost every remaining game in the second half of the season.

After winning just three of their first eight games, Jacksonville will need to win a minimum of six of their final eight games to hopefully earn a repeat berth in the playoffs. And it starts this Sunday with a game against a rapidly improving Indianapolis team that after a 1-5 start, finds itself tied with the Jaguars at 3-5 with both teams trailing division rivals Houston (6-3) and Tennessee (4-4).

Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles feels that the must-win edict starts on Sunday in Indianapolis, where the Jaguars won last year’s game to end a four-game losing streak on the Colts’ home field.

“I think they are all must-wins for me from here on out,” Bortles said. “I think we have to win them all. Maybe you get lucky and lose a couple and find a way to still make it, but I think you have to win them all and for sure starting with the first one.”

The teams meet with opposite momentum. The Jaguars have lost four in a row and have been outscored 114-46 during that span. Indianapolis could find itself right back in the hunt of the AFC South title despite winning just once in their first six games. The Colts have won back-to-back games and play their next three games in the confines of Lucas Oil Stadium.

Bortles knows the margin for error is very small for the Jaguars the rest of the season.

“We put ourselves in this situation. We have created this small margin of error by not winning football games, and we have put ourselves here,” the Jaguars quarterback said on Wednesday. “We know we still have a chance. 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, we have to win eight games in a row or six out of the eight or however you want to look at it. It is one game at a time.

“Playing Indy is a divisional game, so it is an important one. It has to be all your effort and focus and energy on that and finding a way to win. (Coach Doug Marrone) talked about it all week and all last week – you have to win one to get it rolling. That is all anyone is really focused on right now.”

The Jaguars appear to have good news on the horizon. Running back Leonard Fournette practiced for the second time this week and while still showing up on the injury report, all indications are that he’ll be in the starting lineup come Sunday. That’s a plus. The Jaguars are 2-0 in the two games he’s played in this season. Without him, they are 1-5.

If Fournette is in the starting lineup on Sunday, the Jaguars will not hold back on using him. Marrone made that crystal clear on Sunday, when he was asked if the Jaguars would limit his carries to any degree.

“You’re asking me if he is able to play, are we going to kind of hold back or just kind of work him into it? We are full-boring everybody,” Marrone said. “Once a guy is ready to play, that has to be our expectation. I think you get into trouble when you put a player on the field and he is not able to live up to the expectation that you have for him meaning that all of a sudden now if something happens, it’s kind of like a built-in excuse. That’s the way I’ve always viewed it.

“I have always told players (if someone says), ‘I’m going to go out there, but I don’t feel like whatever …’ What does that mean? If they say, ‘I’m not 100 percent, I can’t do what’s expected of me.’ Well, then, I can’t put him on the field.”

In the six games that Fournette missed, the Jaguars ran the ball 117 times and passed it on 249 occasions. That’s better than a 2-1 margin of passing versus running. That’s not how the Jaguars have built their offense the past couple of seasons. But with injuries hitting the offensive unit hard this season, the Jaguars have been forced to play from behind, paving the way for many more passes than runs. That could end on Sunday if Fournette returns to the lineup and runs like he did as a rookie a year ago when he gained 1,040 rushing yards.

SERIES HISTORY: 35th regular-season meeting. Colts lead series, 22-12. Jaguars winning percentage of .353 against the Colts is their lowest mark against any of their NFL opponents (10 games or more). The Jaguars have narrowed the deficit with Indy by winning four of the last five games, including both games last year. That was only the second time (also 2012) that they had swept the Colts in a season. Last year’s 27-0 shutout in Indianapolis was the Jaguars sixth shutout in franchise history and was the Colts’ first shutout loss in 375 regular season games. It was Jacksonville’s first shutout on the road in 180 games.