If the Detroit Lions needed a gut-check time, this Sunday versus the Jacksonville Jaguars would be as good of time as any.
Detroit (3-4) has hovered below expectations this fall, but last week's 28-24 win over the Seattle Seahawks showed that it hasn't given up all hope just yet. While the Lions probably would like to be in the four- or five-win range right now, they can still make a playoff push with a victory Sunday over the struggling Jaguars (1-6).
Detroit hasn't won back-to-back contests this season; the power of two in a row could be enough to spark something we haven't seen in the Lions in 2012, and that's consistency.
Two in a row turns into three in a row, and building a winning streak as it enters the second half of the schedule would surely benefit Detroit. Don't forget, after Sunday's bout with Jacksonville, the Lions go on the road to play the Minnesota Vikings (5-3) and then host the Green Bay Packers (5-3).
Looking past a 1-6 Jaguars club would be a mistake. But at the same time, looking at Sunday's game as winnable is the Lions' only choice – rather, looking at it as a must-win is their only choice.
They're at the point where mishaps could cost them their season. Each week grows increasingly important, and losses become more and more self-defeating.
Stafford needs to own offense
He's had a slow start compared to what he did last year, but Matthew Stafford is still one of the NFC's top quarterbacks.
The former Georgia star has to own the offense. While he was a bit rusty out of the chute against the Seahawks, Stafford had one of his best games of the year with 352 passing yards on 34-of-49 passing.
The yards total was his second-highest of the year, while his 69.4 completion percentage was the best since he connected on 80 percent of his throws during a 38-10 beating of the San Diego Chargers in 2011.
More of that Stafford, less of Weeks 2-4 Stafford, and the Lions should be in good shape.
Titus is tightening up, looks like X-Factor
Prior to the season's start, I couldn't deliver enough praise toward Titus Young's way. He's what I look for in a young receiver – he's responsive, intelligent and athletic. With the ability to make plays when called upon, the former Boise State star could have a bright future with the Lions.
His Hail Mary catch from Shaun Hill helped the Lions get into overtime prior to losing 44-41 to the Tennessee Titans, a game which was a heartbreaker, but a thrilling show of offense that will be cited over and over again by NFL followers.
But Young didn't stop there.
With 20 seconds remaining on the clock, Young caught a one-yarder from Stafford – who had four touchdown passes – this past week to pluck the Seahawks.
Talk about an X-Factor, Young could develop into a viable threat each and every time he touches the field, but needs consistency.
Defense bends, but doesn't break
To say Jacksonville needs a win more than Detroit does would be an obvious statement. The Jaguars haven't shown much on either side of the ball, especially offense. And that's where the Lions defense needs to capitalize.
Although he was a force in college, Blaine Gabbert can't seem to establish himself as a reliable NFL quarterback. Part of that is because the Jaguars are still developing, trying to find something to build upon.
It's hard. We've watched the Lions do the same for the better part of a decade.
However, that doesn't mean Detroit should put its intensity on the backburner. This week's game is a must-win, and rattling Gabbert early will be the Lions' best plan of attack.
The secondary has been banged-up, but if the Lions can force Gabbert to go the air more than he'd like, they could easily force turnovers. Gabbert has fumbled four times this season (lost two) and has been sacked 17 times for 129 yards, the fifth-most in the NFL.
Pressure. Pressure. Pressure.