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Ready for New England

Posted Dec 19, 2012

As Jacksonville Jaguars prepare for New England Patriots, Maurice Jones-Drew remains questionable, with Daryl Smith more likely to play

Chad Henne gets it.

Not only has Henne played the Jaguars’ opponent Sunday – the New England Patriots – plenty of times in his five-year NFL career, he knows the Jaguars’ record, knows the Patriots’ record and he knows about perception.

So, are the Jaguars favored Sunday?

No, Henne knows that’s not the case, and the rest of the Jaguars know it, too. And they know that it will take a very good game – their best game of the season – and a very big upset to win in EverBank Field. But while few give them a chance, they also know this:

Those other things – all the predictions and all the perceptions?

Come Sunday, they matter not a bit.

“It’s a great opponent,” Henne said as the Jaguars (2-12) prepared to play the AFC East Champion Patriots (10-4) at EverBank Field in Jacksonville Sunday at 1 p.m.

“I think our guys are up to it and we’re going to do everything in our power to try to win this game.”

Henne, who will start a fifth consecutive game at quarterback for the Jaguars, cited the Jaguars’ previous games against quality teams this season – not just an early-season victory over the Indianapolis Colts, but a midseason overtime loss at 12-2 Houston.

“Obviously, this is a great team, but when we went into Houston, we had the same opportunity,” Henne said. “We went toe-to-toe with them. That’s the thing. We have to make plays. We can’t hurt ourselves."

And as much as anything, that was the talk on Wednesday. As the Jaguars gathered at EverBank to begin preparing for the Patriots, the focus was on putting a loss to the Dolphins Sunday – and the disappointment of a three-game losing streak – behind them.

And yes, there was an urgency to it, with the urgency the knowledge that Sunday’s opponent is historically very good – and good in the present, too.

“Obviously, we have a very good opponent coming in this week that we’re really geared up for,” Jaguars Head Coach Mike Mularkey said. “Our guys know how important it to get this game plan down. I stressed this morning how important it is this time of year – with record, with holidays, with family with everybody being here – how important it is that they work extra at home, or wherever it is, to get this plan down very well.

“It’s our last home game. We want to come in here and have a good showing for our fans against a good football team. We want to be prepared to do that. Our mode is one day at a time here.”

Defensive end Jeremy Mincey agreed.

“I find this a challenge – a big challenge,” Mincey said. “I look forward to it. It will be great so send the fans home with a win. The goal is always to win.”

The Patriots are ranked first in the NFL in total offense, and quarterback Tom Brady – a three-time Super Bowl champion – is in the conversation for NFL Most Valuable Player. He is playing as well as he ever has in a Hall of Fame career, and until a loss to San Francisco Sunday, the Patriots were one of the NFL’s hottest teams, having won seven consecutive games.

The Patriots’ defense has struggled at times this season, but when the Jaguars spoke of the Patriots Wednesday, they talked not of New England’s struggles – or the Jaguars’ own three-game losing streak – but of needing to prepare as if none of that matters.

“I think preparation convinces them – I think every week it has,” Mularkey said. “I think they see it in my tone, my approach. I think they see I believe we have a chance. I think as we go through the week and look at film we see that if we play well enough, and we’re where we’re supposed to be and if we prepare, we have a chance every week.

“I think we’re going to be very confident, just as we have the last 14 games.”

The Jaguars enter Patriots week still hoping to finish the final two games strong, and still trying to get healthier.

Linebacker Daryl Smith, eligible to return from the injured reserve/designated to return list, was expected to practice Wednesday. Though he is not on the active roster, the franchise’s all-time leading tackler is eligible to be activated this week if healthy.

Smith, who set a franchise record for tackles for loss in a season last year, has not played this season after sustaining a groin injury in training camp.

“Based on his demeanor, I think he’s going to play,” Mularkey said.

Running back Maurice Jones-Drew, a three-time Pro Bowl selection who has missed the last eight games with a sprained foot, also was expected work Wednesday. Mularkey said Jones-Drew was expected to run more Wednesday and do more “football-type drills” than he had the previous eight weeks, but said he remained “questionable” for Sunday.

 “We just need to see how he feels,” Mularkey said.

Mularkey said Jones-Drew would be monitored throughout the week, and said he was happy Jones-Drew will be on the field running, but Jaguars players said Wednesday who was available mattered far less than the opportunity at hand.

And as difficult as the match-up may be, Henne said it absolutely remained an opportunity.

“That would make a lot out of our season,” Henne said. “Obviously, we want to go in and try to win every game, but against a great opponent, it’s a great test for us. If we can put one together and win this game, it shows a lot of people how we are improving and coming along as a team.”

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