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Jaguars play their best against best

Posted Dec 22, 2012

Jacksonville Jaguars look to continue trend of playing well against elite opponents Sunday against New England Patriots

Mike Mularkey can’t quite explain it.

Jaguars guard Uche Nwaneri can’t, either, and in fact, when it comes to just why the Jaguars play their best football against some of their best opponents, it seems no one around the franchise has a particularly good explanation.

Still, explicable or not, this much is true:

When it comes to tough tasks, even in a difficult season, the Jaguars actually test pretty well.

“It certainly appears that way,” Mularkey said as the Jaguars (2-12) prepared to play the New England Patriots (10-4) at EverBank Field Sunday at 1 p.m.

Indeed it does.

Has the Jaguars’ season been a struggle? Are the Patriots heavy favorites Sunday?

Yes, and yes, but while few national or local analysts give the Jaguars much of a chance against Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and the Patriots Sunday, the Jaguars aren’t thinking that way.

“It’s a great opponent, but I think our guys are up to it,” Jaguars quarterback Chad Henne said.

The results this season are a reason.

While no team on the Jaguars’ schedule this season has posed quite the match-up problems of the perennially dominant Patriots, a look at the Jaguars’ season reveals that when it comes to playing the better teams on the schedule, they have at times turned in their better performances.

“It’s all been part of us trying to find a rhythm as a team,” Nwaneri said. “When you play against these teams that are at the top of the league, it’s kind of a measuring stick. You want to find out what you’re doing right and what we can do better.

“We’ve had some success against teams in the top echelon. We play the same against every team we play, but for one reason or another, it’s worked against teams that are considered top teams.”

There have been exceptions. The Jaguars lost to the Houston Texans, Cincinnati Bengals and Chicago Bears early in the season. Those were playoff-contending teams, and once the games got away from the Jaguars, they stayed one-sided.

But in other cases, the results were different.

A last-second victory over the Indianapolis Colts. An overtime loss to the Houston Texans. A narrow loss to the Green Bay Packers.

All were games most analysts might believe should be one-sided in favor of the opponent, but in each, the Jaguars were close in the fourth quarter. Against Houston in Houston in the 10th game of the season, the Jaguars were six yards from a game-winning overtime touchdown, but settled for a field goal that eventually allowed the Texans to win on the ensuing series.

Against the Colts in Week 3, the Jaguars controlled the second half before an 80-yard touchdown pass in the final two minutes from Blaine Gabbert to Cecil Shorts secured Jacksonville’s first victory of the season.

“We’ve been more competitive in those games,” Mularkey said. “There’s been no different approach just like there hasn’t been here. We’re preparing just like we have for all the games we’ve been in. I don’t know why that’s taken place, but it has unfolded that way, especially the last one against Houston.”

The Jaguars entered the Houston game 1-8, with the Texans 8-1, but Henne replaced an injured Blaine Gabbert, throwing for 354 yards and four touchdowns. That gave the Jaguars some midseason momentum, and while that has since waned in the midst of a three-game losing streak, Henne said the Texans experience can help Sunday.

“Obviously it’s a great team,” Henne said. “When we went in to Houston it was the same type of opportunity. It was a great team, we went head to head with them and made some plays. That’s the thing: we’ve got to make plays. We can’t hurt ourselves. We’re going to do everything in our power to try and win this game.”

The Jaguars could have a key player available with which to try to do that Sunday. While three-time Pro Bowl running back Maurice Jones-Drew will miss at least one more week with a foot sprain, linebacker Daryl Smith – the franchise’s all-time tackles leader – is eligible to return from the injured reserve/designated to return list.

Mularkey on Friday said he believed Smith would be ready to play, but whoever is available – and whatever the status of the opponent – players this week said the goal remains the same. Get a victory, and if doing that would surprise just about everyone outside the organization, so much the better.

“On any given Sunday, anybody can be in a game,” Nwaneri said. If you try to play the game by stats, you’re risking a lot.”

Said Mincey, “We want to go out there and play our best football. It would be great to send them home with an ‘L.’’’

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