JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Jaguars are ready to get back to work.
Jacksonville returns from its bye week with a two-game lead in the AFC South and riding a five-game winning streak. The Jaguars are healthier than they were and should see several injured players back in the lineup.
The challenge for coach Doug Pederson — keep that pre-bye momentum going as a tough second half of the season looms. That begins with a Sunday afternoon game against visiting San Francisco (5-3), a preseason Super Bowl pick that has found itself in a bit of a slide.
The 49ers have lost three straight games, while the Jaguars are one of the NFL’s hottest teams. What’s been done before the bye is done and over with, though, something that players and coaches have continued to repeat this week.
“We still feel that momentum, that energy that we left with when we took the week off, but you got to find a way to get that edge back,” said quarterback Trevor Lawrence. “It is relaxing and getting your body back underneath you, you have to. It’s a long season, we played eight tough games in a row and then now we’ve got a nice stretch. You’ve got to give your body a chance to rest.”
While Jacksonville’s start has been better than expected, players and coaches have stressed that it means nothing at this point. The Jaguars were dead in the water at this point last year and had a sizzling final stretch to make the playoffs. Numerous teams have had hot starts and imploded in the season’s second half, so 6-2 at this point doesn’t carry much weight, especially with a hungry 49ers team headed to Jacksonville.
With the Jaguars’ success the past season and a half, big games like this should become more and more prevalent for the franchise.
“You know, we hope so,” Pederson said. “You just got to continue one week at a time and hopefully from our standpoint that things year-in and year-out are going to be sustainable, we continue to have great teams come to Jacksonville.”
Before the bye week, Jacksonville has put together a familiar blueprint. The Jaguars have one of the best defenses in the league, a run-stuffing unit with a league-best 18 takeaways. They’ve needed that to help bolster an offense that has no doubt struggled to find consistency. Running back Travis Etienne has been one of the NFL’s best and most explosive backs, but the passing game hasn’t been as crisp as it was expected to be.
Offensive line issues probably have contributed to the ups and downs, but it should be better in the season’s second half. Jacksonville made a trade deadline deal for Ezra Cleveland, and starting left guard Walker Little is positioned to return after missing several games with a knee injury.
“It just means that the guys that are stepping up are stepping up,” Pederson said about being 6-2 with as many injuries that have plagued the team. “Then, they’re playing well and that’s what makes good teams.”
Lawrence said the Jaguars are expecting a more thorough and balanced offense in the second half of the season.
“I hope so. Every week you kind of hope it’s that week. We’ve been a lot more consistent on just moving the ball, not stalling out as much,” Lawrence said.
“But then, you see two weeks ago, we have the dumb turnovers that kept Pittsburgh in the game and gave them a shot and didn’t let us really takeoff and blow the game open. It’s something like that every week that we have to fix, you’re hoping every week is that week and we’re emphasizing it.”