JACKSONVILLE – A day later, Mike Mularkey felt much the same.
And that meant while a lot went right for the Jaguars Sunday in the final home game of 2012, including maybe their best overall performance of the season, the end result was still a loss.
So, within a lot of talk from the Jaguars' head coach about pride and heart Monday, there was just as much talk about disappointment and frustration. A lot of disappointment.
"I thought our guys played extremely hard, and fought all the way to the end," Mularkey said a day after the Jaguars lost, 23-16, to the New England Patriots at EverBank Field. "I was very proud of them the way they played.
"Again, somehow, some way, we can't get over the hump to win those close games. It's frustrating in a couple of ways. One, we haven't been able to overcome that for 15 weeks. Two, is they haven't been rewarded with some positives when they've played well.
"We have to somehow find a way to win these close ones."
The Jaguars (2-13) entered the game on a three-game losing streak, and the loss assured the team of the most losses in a season in franchise history. The Patriots (11-4) entered playing for a first-round postseason bye.
The Patriots also were heavy favorites in the game, and Mularkey said the Jaguars' focus throughout the week – and the fight during the game – was impressive.
"We knew going in what their reward was – a bye," Mularkey said. "Ours was respect, and how are we as people responding to an adverse year? What do we really stand for? That's the way they've been coming to work every day. That's why I have felt very confident in all these games they have played. I think they have, too."
At the same time, Mularkey emphasized a season-long inability to make a key play at a key time. The Jaguars on Sunday twice had possession inside the 20 in the final five minutes with a chance to tie, but each drive ended with Patriots safety Patrick Chung intercepting Jaguars quarterback Chad Henne.
"We just have not pulled out the plays when we needed them at critical times," Mularkey said.
Mularkey said considering the team's record, motivation could have been an issue – not only for Sunday's game, but throughout the last month. He also said in theory that could be an issue this week as the team prepares for the regular-season finale at Tennessee amid the distractions of Christmas and an upcoming offseason.
He said that hasn't been an issue, and doesn't anticipate it being one.
"It could be, but it's not, based on the people I work with every day," Mularkey said. "It certainly would be easier if you had some wins, because of your energy – anything that's positive is going to recharge you. I'm fortunate to have an excellent staff that has a lot of energy, especially at this time of year.
"Even the teams that are headed to the playoffs are fatigued, but our guys – I have to give them credit – they have worked diligently to put our guys in position, and some of these guys are playing their first games in the NFL. There are no shortcuts by this staff by any means and that says a lot about them.
"I think the players see that, and they see how we're preparing to win. Regardless of the record, and regardless of what people are saying or writing, they're doing whatever they can to win every Sunday when they line up."
Also on Monday:
- Mularkey said wide receiver Cecil Shorts and guard Uche Nwaneri are in the team's concussion program. Nwaneri sustained a concussion in the first half Sunday and Shorts – who missed a loss to the New York Jets December 9 with a concussion – sustained one on the Jaguars' final series. Mularkey said each will be retested Tuesday. Mularkey said Shorts told him Sunday after the game he was feeling better. "We're going to give him the time," Mularkey said.
- Running back Maurice Jones-Drew remains "pretty questionable" heading into the week of the regular-season finale. Jones-Drew, the NFL's leading rusher last season, has missed the last eight games with a foot sprain. He ran last week and the hope entering this past weekend was that Jones-Drew might play in the finale, but Mularkey said Jones-Drew was sore Monday after running last week. "We'll give him a couple of days and see where we go from his soreness," Mularkey said.
- Running back Rashad Jennings, out since a December 2 loss at Buffalo with a concussion, has passed his concussion test, and would be able to play Sunday, but Mularkey said he also is dealing with a shoulder issue. The team is concerned about the strength of the shoulder, Mularkey said.
- Linebacker Greg Jones will be placed on injured reserve with a fractured fibula sustained Sunday, Mularkey said.
- Linebacker Daryl Smith, who played Sunday after missing the first 14 games with a groin injury, was sore after playing 63 snaps in his first game back. "We were watching him pretty closely," Mularkey said. "It was probably more than we anticipated, but not a number we were concerned with."
- Guy Whimper will start at right tackle in the finale, Mularkey said. The team moved Whimper into the spot Sunday in place of second-year veteran Cameron Bradfield, who had started the previous 12 games. "He's still a young player," Mularkey said. "He's learned a lot from all these starts this year, but he needs to be more consistent. He has to be able to hold up better and play more consistently at that position."