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Jaguars must avoid 'what if?' game


MINNEAPOLIS--If they succeed, their regret will only increase.

The Jaguars want to finish the season with two more wins, which would swell their season-ending win streak to five and even their record at 8-8. Then, the fun would begin; what if they had won a couple of more games?

"It's hard not to (think that way)," Kyle Brady said as he toweled off the sweat of a shockingly-easy, 33-3 win over the Minnesota Vikings. "The scores stick out in my mind because they were so close: 18-17 Baltimore, 28-21 Green Bay, 13-10 Buffalo," Brady added.

There are at least three more such defeats that haunt the Jaguars. They lament their second loss to Baltimore, their early-season loss at home to Cleveland, and their late-game collapse at Tennessee.

It is all that is left of the hope with which they began this season in the heat and humidity of summer in north Florida. What if?

"What if we were (in the playoffs)?" Brady asked. "It would be a great feeling around here. At the beginning of this season, most of us looked at this three-game road stretch."

And all the Jaguars have done is win all three of those games. If only the Jaguars had won at home. That's the difference. This Sunday, the Jaguars will attempt to finish their home season at 4-4, and .500 at home is not a formula for making the playoffs.

"You're not supposed to look back, but what could've happened if we had hung in there? Just a couple of games; if we had just won those," defensive end Renaldo Wynn said.

Wynn is one of what is expected to be several players leaving the Jaguars this upcoming offseason. He is due a $6 million roster bonus on March 1. Wynn's situation is academic, and some might suggest Wynn and other Jaguars headed for new teams are "playing for the tape;" you know, putting their best effort on video to whet the appetite of prospective suitors.

Wynn disagrees with that notion. He believes the heart and soul of this late-season run goes deeper than players' resumes.

"You can't replace heart. You can compare a lot of teams out there who aren't in it," Wynn said. "I think that if we were in the playoffs, we'd be right there. There's no question we could beat anybody in the playoffs."

To a man, they know not to do this to themselves, but they can't deny the obvious feeling with which they will be left when they close up shop in Chicago on Jan. 6.

"When I sit back and analyze it, it's going to come down to if we could've made one play in this game or one play in that game. Both Baltimore games, the Cleveland game, the Tennessee game, Pittsburgh there," veteran middle linebacker Hardy Nickerson said.

This is expected to be Nickerson's last year with the Jaguars, too. He will be a salary cap casualty, but that won't be a bitter pill to swallow for a player of Nickerson's stature and years of service.

Keenan McCardell clearly wants to remain with the Jaguars, but he's heard the rumors, too. He knows his cap numbers will make him a candidate to depart. Either way, McCardell will fight the urge to look back at the close losses and attempt to "make" them wins.

"You can't do that. It'll drive you crazy. Just finish strong and regroup for next year," McCardell said.

What about next year?

"I guess they've got to pick people they want and people they don't want. I'd hate to be the person who does that. We are truly coming together," McCardell said.

They are words that make this a déjà vu season. The Jaguars' strong finish last season couldn't avoid a 7-9 record, but the late-season run left the team's fans and front office embracing the "what if?" theory. The core of the team was kept together, but the playoffs are not the result. Should the Jaguars do it again?

That'll be the topic of the next couple of months, especially if the Jaguars finish 8-8. The "what if?" game will become serious business.

"Interesting enough, it happened last year. Why did it happen again? I don't know. I have an opinion but I'll keep it to myself," quarterback Mark Brunell said.

There will be lots of opinions about what to do about the "what if?" issue. At some point this winter, Wayne Weaver will make his thoughts known.

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