JACKSONVILLE – Fifteen down, one to go.
Although the first 15 games of the 2012 NFL regular season haven't gone precisely as the Jaguars hoped – nothing like they had hoped, actually – Mike Mularkey said that doesn't change the approach this week. Players said the same thing.
Yes, 2-13 is very disappointing. And 3-13 wouldn't be a lot better.
But Mularkey, in his first season as the Jaguars' head coach, said there is something bigger, more important at stake Sunday against the Tennessee Titans than a one-game improvement in the final regular-season record:
A positive, memorable finish.
And if maybe that's only important in the locker room, that still makes it something worth playing for on the second-to-last day of the calendar year.
"You'd like to end this year on a strong note," Mularkey said Wednesday as the Jaguars (2-13) prepared to play the Titans (5-10) at LP Field in Nashville, Tenn., Sunday at 1 p.m.
"We'd just like to have something positive to finish with. We haven't had a whole lot of that the whole year. I think it's important."
Such was the tone of the Jaguars' locker room Wednesday. No one around the team was saying the team has a chance to save its season Sunday. At 11 games under .500, saving the entire season isn't possible, but players said that being true doesn't render the final game meaningless.
"You feel a lot better going into the offseason with a win than you do a loss," Jaguars middle linebacker Paul Posluszny said. "If we can finish on a strong note, that would be a positive thing."
Quarterback Chad Henne agreed. "If we get this win, it will send us out on a positive note, and keep that taste out of our mouth," Henne said.
"At no point, from a players' standpoint and a team standpoint, do we ever feel like a game isn't important," cornerback Derek Cox said.
The Jaguars this week are dealing with a bit more than just a normal game week.
Mularkey on Monday discussed the need to focus this week despite significant distractions, and he spoke with the players about that Wednesday. Not only is the season ending Sunday, there was the distraction of Christmas Day Tuesday, plus reports circulating in the media about possible off-season changes. Those are topics for a future day, and Posluszny said discussion of those things "must wait until we're done playing ball on Sunday."
"It clouds your mind to think about it now," Posluszny said, "but as soon as we're done playing, we'll know that that's the last time that this group of guys is going to play together as a team, and that there will be changes in the future."
Posluszny said that there is pride to be taken that – despite the record – the approach throughout the season has remained focused. That approach nearly paid dividends this past Sunday in a 23-16 loss, but defensive tackle Terrance Knighton said no matter how close the Jaguars came against the AFC East Champions, a loss was still a loss.
"It sounds good, but it's all about winning," Knighton, one of several starters or front-line players such as Cox and linebacker Daryl Smith who will become free agents following the season.
"You can play hard, but if you're not winning, that's the bottom line."
The Jaguars enter this week with the health of running back Maurice Jones-Drew remaining an issue.
Jones-Drew, the NFL's leading rusher last season, has missed the last nine games with a foot sprain. He ran last week, and experienced soreness in the foot Monday. He ran again Wednesday morning, and although Mularkey said that running went better than any he had done since injuring the foot, the three-time Pro Bowler remained questionable to play Sunday.
"Whether it's for next year or whatever, he's better than he has been," Mularkey said.
But whoever is available, Mularkey and players said that matters less than the fact that there's a game remaining, and that means one more opportunity. And while the record to this point wasn't what anyone wanted or expected, that doesn't mean the upcoming days don't matter.
"Coach (Mularkey) reiterated that around this time of year you have to refocus," Cox said. "You've got a ton of things going on with the holidays and with the end of the season coming up. It's still football time. That's what he told us: 'It's football time.' We have a job to do. That's what we're focused on."
Added Mularkey, "As I told the players, it's about finishing strong as we have (emphasized) for six weeks. That's even with one game to go. I think we'll have that kind of finish."