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SPORTS

Jets, Jaguars Square off Looking to Keep Playoff Hopes Alive

December 21, 2022

EAST RUTHERFORD — Duane Brown saw no need to downplay what’s ahead for the New York Jets.

Their playoff hopes have been seriously damaged by a three-game losing streak. And they’ve got a short week to get themselves back in the AFC postseason hunt.

Next up for the Jets (7-7) is a home game Thursday night against Trevor Lawrence and the suddenly surging Jacksonville Jaguars (6-8).

“We’ve got to win this week,” said Brown, New York’s left tackle. “That’s the bottom line, that’s all we can think about. We can’t think about playoffs, next week, other scenarios outside our team, who loses, who wins, who can help us. We have to think about Jacksonville on Thursday night and winning this ballgame.

“This is a must win in our eyes. That’s how we look at it.”

Some might argue that’s the case for the Jets from here on out. Otherwise, the NFL’s longest postseason drought could stretch to 12 seasons.

The Jets are currently in the ninth spot in the AFC — two out of the playoffs — and have very little margin for error, especially after a 20-17 loss to Detroit in which they blew a late lead.

“We’ve got to be able to get our minds right for the game on Thursday or what just happened is going to eat us alive the whole week,” rookie cornerback Sauce Gardner said. “It’s pretty hard, but we’ve got to be mature adults and we’ve just got to focus on Jacksonville.”

That’s because the Jaguars are no pushovers, particularly lately. They have won two in a row and four of their past six, including their 40-34 overtime win over Dallas on Sunday when Lawrence threw a career-high four touchdown passes, three to Zay Jones, and Rayshawn Jenkins returned an interception 52 yards for a TD to end the game.

Jacksonville’s recent success has it in the middle of the AFC South division hunt. The Jaguars are just a game behind Tennessee, and would clinch a playoff spot — and the division crown — if they can win their last three games.

That starts with their showdown with the Jets at MetLife Stadium. Then they’re at Houston before hosting the Titans in the regular-season finale.

“Anything is possible, I understand that and what we’ve done the last couple weeks in these two games,” Jaguars coach Doug Pederson said. “We’ve still got a big road ahead, two division games ahead.

“If we continue to improve on what we’ve done here in the last month of the season, I think it’s possible.”

ZACH’S BACK

Zach Wilson will start a second game in five days after returning last Sunday as the Jets’ starting quarterback with Mike White sidelined by a rib injury.

Wilson was benched for three games to reset his mechanics and mental approach. He had an up-and-down performance against Detroit, going 18 of 35 for 317 yards and two touchdowns with an interception.

“I think in my first year and a half, I just realized how much of a business this really is,” Wilson said. “I played football my entire life for the fun of it and how fun it is and sometimes it’s mo’ money, mo’ problems, right? And for me it’s how can I just bring that fun back? How can I just enjoy being here?”

TOP-PICK SHOWDOWN

The game marks the second matchup between the top two picks from last year’s draft with Lawrence, who went No. 1, and Wilson, selected second.

Wilson went 14 of 22 for 102 yards and a touchdown, and also ran 52 yards for a score in the Jets’ 26-21 victory on Dec. 26, 2021. Lawrence finished 26 of 39 for 280 yards with no TDs or INTs.

WAITING GAME

With left tackle Cam Robinson (knee) out for the season, the Jaguars will turn to 2021 second-round draft pick Walker Little beginning against the Jets. It has been a long wait for Walker to return to a definitive starting role.

The former Stanford standout missed most of the 2019 season after tearing a knee ligament in the opener and opted out of the 2020 season because of COVID-19. He has played mostly on special teams in two seasons in Jacksonville, although he has made three spot starts in place of Robinson.

“He’s got a job to do, and we expect him to do it at a high level,” offensive coordinator Press Taylor said.

WEATHER WATCH

Forecasts are calling for a quarter inch of rain Thursday, potentially creating slippery conditions.

The Jaguars are preparing as best they can and don’t want a repeat of their previous rain-soaked game. Lawrence turned the ball over five times — four fumbles and an interception — in strong winds and steady rain at Philadelphia in early October.

“You’ve got to take care of the ball a little better,” Lawrence said. “You know what to expect as far as it’s probably going to rain, it’s going to be cold. I think you just approach it like any other week. Obviously, ball security is really important, especially in those conditions.

“Just be smart and work on it this week with some wet ball drill stuff with the wideouts. That’s all we can do.”

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