The goal remains clear, simple and familiar.
To Jaguars veteran guard Uche Nwaneri and Jaguars players and coaches, the objective Thursday night – and for the rest of the regular season – has nothing to do with the NFL Draft, but everything to do with the future.
The Jaguars need to win, Nwaneri said, and anything else is clearly, simply wrong.
"We really will gain something by finishing and winning our last four games," Nwaneri said as the Jaguars (4-9) prepared to play the Atlanta Falcons (8-5) at the Georgia Dome in downtown Atlanta tonight at 8:20 p.m.
The Jaguars, after three consecutive losses, beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 41-14, last Sunday at EverBank Field, and after a short week with just three days to prepare, they seek their first two-game winning streak of the season Thursday.
"We've got to start small with our goals – try to win two in a row," Jaguars rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert said. "That's our goal and that's our mindset coming into this week. Although it is a short week, we've still got to prepare like it was a regular seven-day week.
"You've got to go out and play Thursday night against a great team."
That's the Jaguars' objective tonight – to win, and maintain momentum from the most one-sided victory of the season.
Nwaneri said he understands those who feel differently.
He said he gets that some fans believe the Jaguars have little to gain and a lot to lose by winning against the Falcons Thursday, then by doing the same thing in the final two weeks of the season against Tennessee and Indianapolis.
The Jaguars, one of five teams in the AFC eliminated from playoff contention with three games remaining, are currently one of six NFL teams tied at 4-9, with only three teams with worse records – the Minnesota Vikings and St. Louis Rams at 2-11 and the Indianapolis Colts at 0-13.
The Jaguars, one line of reasoning goes, need to be concerned with draft positioning.
Nwaneri said that's not the case, and said the positives that can be gleaned from winning and finishing are important to the future.
"It's just about maintaining and continuing to grow and stringing another win together with the one we had on Sunday," Nwaneri said. "The teams that are good in this league are able to win multiple games in a row. That would be a good step for us as a team, to get a second win in a row and to get something rolling to end our season."
Nwaneri said just as important is setting a new tone for the month of December around the organization.
The Jaguars the past two seasons entered December with very real postseason opportunities. They lost their final four games in 2009 after starting 7-5, and last season, they took the lead in the AFC South in early December before losing their final three games and missing the post-season.
"That was something that we definitely had as a goal as a team, was to finish our season stronger than in past years," Nwaneri said. "Regardless of what has happened in the past, we have an opportunity now to achieve that particular goal, to finish strong and to give ourselves momentum going into the off-season."
The Jaguars remains one of the youngest teams in the NFL, and players said having the feeling of playing well in December, and for an extended stretch, matters.
"We have a young team, so it's very important we finish strong these last couple of games," Jaguars defensive tackle Terrance Knighton said.
While the Jaguars enter the game talking of momentum and building for the future, the Falcons enter it talking about the postseason. After finishing with the NFC's best record last year, the Falcons have struggled at times this season, but need a victory to ensure they will stay at least tied with Detroit for the wild card spots in the NFC.
Since Mel Tucker took over as interim coach 15 days ago, his message has been about approaching each day the right way, and continuing to improve. He said that message won't change – whatever the stakes, whatever the record of the opponent.
"Right now it doesn't make a difference for us," Tucker said. "We have a game that we're getting ready to play. It's important. We have to control what we can control, and the only thing we can control today is our preparation, preparing to be at our best on Thursday.
"We don't get that many opportunities to play this game and from what I've seen out of this team, they're getting ready to play."
And that means playing to win, something Jaguars players say is important even if some outside don't quite grasp the reasoning.
"Fans are going to be fans about it," Nwaneri said. "A lot of fans may be looking to the future already, what kind of draft pick you're going to get, but as players, we have a job and an obligation to our teammates to come out and play to win. You're not playing for a higher spot in the draft. Guys out here have a lot of pride. We take pride as a team in getting wins.
"No one wants to go into the off-season on a losing streak or having that kind of bad taste about how the year finished. All that does is add a little bit of tension to the atmosphere as a team. Guys are focused on stringing some wins together."