The term "must-win" has a tendency to be overused, but it certainly applies to the Utah Blaze's game against the Kansas City Command on Saturday night.
Win, and they gain some momentum to chase down the AFL's elite. If they lose, they'll drop further in the basement of their own division. With a 6-5 record and riding a three-game losing streak, that's not much of a decision.
"We've got everything we need to win," linebacker Mike Lewis said. "We've got all the pieces now, but just not the victories."
The Blaze's recent slate has been rough in part because of the competition. Utah faced three straight teams with winning records in the league's upper echelon, but was hoping to come out with at least two victories.
But beyond the degree of difficulty, the team simply hasn't played as well in recent weeks. The defense's underwhelming performances led to a coaching change midseason.
But even last week against San Jose, when the defense played well enough to win, the offense coughed up the ball in the final 15 seconds with a chance for the go-ahead score. Turnovers (nine) and lack of protection (seven sacks) have hurt the Blaze in the past three weeks.
"Last week was very disappointing," fullback Ben Stallings said. "We've got to know when the game is on the line how to do our jobs. We've gotten back to fundamentals."
The schedule has finally delivered a bottom-dweller in Kansas City (2-8) that should be a good bet for Utah to get back to winning. The Blaze have also gotten back defensive tackle Keenan Mace, who helped the line become dominant in the early part of the season.
"We're taking a new attitude: We want to make sure the whole unit does well," Lewis said. "We're not just out there for ourselves."