EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — The Jacksonville Jaguars are closer to first place in the AFC South than they are to a .500 record.
That makes their game Sunday against the New York Jets kind of a big deal. A must-win? Not quite.
But a victory at MetLife Stadium sure would provide a huge blast of confidence for a young team with high hopes for the future.
“We’re treating this game like a championship game, but we do that every other week as well,” quarterback Blake Bortles said.
“We’re going to go through the same process, same procedure and preparation throughout our week just like we did the previous seven games. But, it’s a cool situation to be in and we’re excited for the opportunity to go up to New York and play.”
Despite their 2-5 record, the Jaguars are just a half-game behind Indianapolis and Houston — both 3-5 — for first in the division. It’s the first time Jacksonville is less than one game out after eight weeks since 2004.
The Colts take on undefeated Denver and the Texans are off, so a victory could put the Jaguars right in the mix atop the AFC South.
“It’s definitely a special opportunity,” Bortles said. “We talked about it (Wednesday) in our team meeting and everybody realizes and understands the big picture.”
Jacksonville is coming off a bye-week break following its victory over Buffalo in London in which it stormed out to a 24-point lead before falling behind in the fourth quarter. But Bortles connected with Allen Hurns for a go-ahead 31-yard TD and the defense stopped the Bills on fourth-and-1 with a minute left to hang on for a 34-31 win.
Meanwhile, the Jets (4-3) have lost two straight, including a subpar performance by their defense in a 34-20 defeat at Oakland last Sunday.
With a matchup next Thursday night at home against Rex Ryan and the AFC East-rival Buffalo Bills, the Jets need to get better in a hurry. And they can’t afford to overlook the Jaguars.
“I think it’s huge,” quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick said. “We kind of want to get back on the field and show that that wasn’t us and we’re a better team than that.”
Here are some things to know about the game between the Jaguars and Jets:
RYAN’S HOPE: Fitzpatrick will start Sunday despite tearing a ligament in his left thumb at Oakland.
There was some concern early in the week that neither Fitzpatrick nor backup Geno Smith (bruised left shoulder) would be ready to play. But Fitzpatrick felt comfortable at practice Wednesday while wearing a protective glove. All eyes will be on Fitzpatrick’s thumb, though, and whether he can take snaps and hand the ball off without a problem.
ROAD’S A LONELY PLACE: The Jaguars haven’t won a road game in nearly two years, a span that dates to Dec. 1, 2013, at Cleveland.
Sure, they won in London two weeks ago, but that was technically a “home” game for Jacksonville. The Jaguars are on a 12-game road losing streak, five more than Washington, which has the next-longest skid, according to STATS.
NOT-SO-TENACIOUS D: After a solid start to the season, New York’s defense has slumped in the Jets’ two-game skid. The Jets haven’t caused a turnover during that span, and they have had issues with tackling.
Linebacker David Harris said film of the defense against Oakland was “disgusting,” while defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson said the team was flat and players were loafing. Coach Todd Bowles estimated the Jets missed 20-something tackles, and he and the players insisted there would not be a repeat performance.
“We take pride in being a good defense here in New York,” Harris said. “I know these guys well, I’ve been around them and I know it won’t happen again.”
KICKING CONFIDENCE: The Jaguars are sticking with rookie kicker Jason Myers, at least for now. The team worked out Randy Bulloch and Zach Hocker during the bye week “to see if someone jumps out at you or for the future,” coach Gus Bradley said.
Bringing in the free agents surely sent a message to Myers, who has missed three extra points and three field goals, but the former Arena Football League kicker said “the culture here is amazing” and doesn’t feel any added pressure.
CORNERBACK COMPETITION: Jacksonville opened up one of its starting cornerback spots during the bye week, rotating Dwayne Gratz, Davon House and Demetrius McCray in hopes of settling on one before playing the Jets.
House was benched after getting beat by Houston’s DeAndre Hopkins for two touchdown passes in the fourth quarter on Oct. 18. Gratz replaced him the following week and wasn’t much better against Buffalo in London.
AP Sports Writer Mark Long in Jacksonville, Florida, contributed.
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