They've rid themselves of thoughts of the playoffs. The Jaguars are merely playing football for the right reason: It is their profession and they want to be good at what they do.
Fred Taylor may be the best in the league at what he does, which is to say rushing for yardage and touchdowns. In the Jaguars' embarrassingly-easy, 48-0 win over the hapless Cleveland Browns today, Taylor added 181 yards and three more touchdowns to his season's resume, which is nearing the point of being his best year as a pro, though it began with a knee injury that forced him to miss the first three games and endure the barbs of fans and media alike.
"When coach pulled me out, I asked him to put me back in, but I thought how fortunate I was to come out injury-free," Taylor said of having taken a seat on the bench following his final touchdown with 1:33 to play in the third quarter.
And Taylor's offensive line has become very good at what it does, which is to say block for a running back whose string of 100-yard games has now reached seven.
"One month ago, things weren't being done naturally," coach Tom Coughlin said of his offensive line, which has been almost completely rebuilt from the unit that was on the field at the end of last season. "The blocking patterns are now taking effect. When you don't have a training camp and you don't have a spring, it's a difficult thing to do," Coughlin added.
Mark Brunell remains one of the game's best quarterbacks, and he topped the 3,000 passing yards mark for the fourth time in his last five seasons.
"We're playing for pride; we're playing for respect. Guys feel good about themselves. It's unfortunate that the playoff situation isn't what we'd like it to be," Brunell said, following a statistical performance that was something less than stellar.
You could make a point for every Jaguars player, but, of course, the opponent was Cleveland, which is in a state of complete incompetence. Playing without key players, the Browns turned in a hopeless performance that will solidify their position as the lowest-ranked offense in the league and drop them even lower in the defensive rankings.
Against a team as weak as the Browns, the Jaguars did little in the way of postgame celebration, but the win closed the gap their 2-6 start had created, and left the Jags (6-7) just a win away from .500. They can score their fifth consecutive winning season by winning their remaining three games, against visiting Arizona this Sunday, and against the Bengals and Giants on the road.
"We're playing good football now, but we've got to play good football for 16 weeks," offensive tackle Tony Boselli said.
"We came into this game knowing our chances were slim, but the playoffs weren't on our mind," said linebacker Kevin Hardy, whose sack and forced fumble in the third quarter led to a touchdown that turned the game into a rout.
"Coach said he wanted us to finish December playing our best football, and you look at the last three weeks and we can certainly make a case," Hardy added, referring to consecutive wins against Pittsburgh, Tennessee and Cleveland, all of whom are AFC Central Division foes.
Taylor has been the star of the Jaguars' resurgence. He has rushed for 1,100 yards this season and is just 123 yards shy of his career-high total of his rookie season in 1998. Against an Arizona team that has one of the league's worst run-defenses, Taylor is likely to set a personal single-season high, which, of course, would also be a Jaguars record.
"I feel more confident," he said in comparing his performance this year to his spectacular rookie season. "When I was a rookie, I probably had a little better vision and sharper cuts. I'm not as fast as I was, but I'm going to get that back in the offseason. You just got to pound, bang away."
"He's the key. He's a young player still. He'll only get better. That's exciting," Brunell said of Taylor.
The Jaguars are having to deal with the regret of two losses earlier in the season to Baltimore, and one recently to Seattle. They are the three games that will keep the Jaguars out of the playoffs.
"We haven't been in this situation since 1995, and in '95 we didn't even have an identity. It would be real disappointing if we lost one of these remaining games," said wide receiver Jimmy Smith.
Beating the Browns didn't become easy until wide receiver Keenan McCardell pulled in a 14-yard touchdown pass from Brunell with 28 seconds left in the first half. That gave the Jaguars a 20-0 lead at halftime.
However, the outcome was actually decided when Mike Hollis booted a 40-yard field goal with 10:44 to play in the first quarter. Cleveland was able to do nothing offensively, gaining only two first downs and 53 total net yards. The Jaguars ran 82 plays to the Browns' 42, and with rookie third-string quarterback Spergon Wynn at quarterback, the Browns passed for a minus-nine yards. Ouch!
"The players are professionals. Their job is to play football. My job is to coach football. They've done it for a long time. I've done it for a long time. You've got to be realistic that there are some problems we have. We have to address those," Browns coach and former Jaguars offensive coordinator Chris Palmer said.
"We were more disciplined as an expansion team in our first year last year than we are in our second year," Browns cornerback Corey Fuller said. "We haven't had an off week. We went through the hardest two-a-day practices in the NFL, and we've played 14 straight games. You think it hasn't caught up with us?"
The Browns finish the season against Philadelphia and Tennessee. Their bye week is the final week of the NFL season, which should help them get rested for next season.