This isn't what Mike Mularkey envisioned. Not even close.
The Jaguars' head coach didn't expect a six-game losing streak, or the worst start in franchise history. But if the first nine games of his first season with the franchise have been baffling at times and frustrating at others, Mularkey said the goal remains clear:
Keep working. Keep doing the right things.
And overall, finish the season much, much better than the Jaguars started.
"We would like to finish this thing strong on an upward course in every direction," Mularkey said Friday, a day after the Jaguars (1-8) lost their fifth consecutive home game to start the season, 27-10, to the Indianapolis Colts (6-3) at EverBank Field.
"We would like to finish strong."
The Jaguars, who have lost each of their home games by double digits, met Friday and players will have the weekend off before returning to practice Monday to begin preparations for AFC South-leading Houston.
"I don't think any of us thought we'd be in this position," Mularkey said. "I know our team didn't feel like we'd be in this position. We are in it. When we come back in here Monday we're not looking back. We're looking forward. We're going to try to continue to gain progress in what we're doing.
"It's disappointing because none of us felt like we'd be here, by any means."
Mularkey said a strong finish is still possible, and that so long as he is healthy, second-year veteran Blaine Gabbert will be the starting quarterback when that effort continues.
Gabbert, who completed 18 of 31 passes for 209 yards and an interception, left Thursday's game after aggravating a shoulder injury originally sustained last month at Oakland. Gabbert, who left in the fourth quarter Thursday, will undergo treatment over the weekend, Mularkey said.
"We'll see where he is Monday in practice," Mularkey said.
Mularkey said Gabbert will remain the starter if cleared physically.
"I don't think it's one guy," Mularkey said of an offense that has scored more than 20 points just three times this season. "Everybody's responsible and I think we can all make each other better. We've all got to play at a high level and coach at a high level for it to go."
Mularkey said he doesn't believe a quarterback change would provide a "spark."
"I don't think so, no," Mularkey said. "Everybody's got to play better – Blaine and everybody around him."
Mularkey also said Gabbert needs more game repetitions.
"That has a lot to do with it," he said. "There's no better practice than what's going on with him every Sunday or Thursday night. You cannot simulate what takes place on every play, the speed of that. I don't care how you practice. You can't simulate the things that go on during games. This is what he needs."
Mularkey said players such as second-year receiver Cecil Shorts, rookie wide receiver Justin Blackmon, right tackle Cameron Bradfield and rookie guard Mike Brewster also need game experience.
"We have a lot of guys who can use reps," he said.
Mularkey, as he has done throughout the season and the recent losing streak, spoke in the wake of the latest loss about the need to continue working as the Jaguars have worked this season. He said the team has practiced well throughout the season, and that the task now is to translate that to games.
Specifically, he said there won't be major changes in the coming days.
"The guys who have been around – successful head coaches and guys who have won Super Bowls – and won consistently and been relevant in December, they never sway drastically in what they believe in," Mularkey said. "I won't, either."
Also Friday, Mularkey said:
*The status of running back Maurice Jones-Drew (foot) remains uncertain, and that he would consider the three-time Pro Bowl selection questionable for next Sunday's game at Houston. He said safety Dwight Lowery (ankle) has a better chance to play against Houston than Jones-Drew.
*Mularkey said again he regretted drawing a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty in the second quarter Thursday. Mularkey drew the penalty when protesting a sneak for a touchdown by Colts quarterback Andrew Luck. Mularkey went onto the field, threw his playsheet and was called for the penalty. "That's not good for your football team, to show that kind of frustration," Mularkey said. "That shows a sign that it's OK, and it's not OK." Mularkey also said such actions have a direct influence on the officiating crew. "That may result in some things later on being called that were gray," Mularkey said. "That was not a good thing on my part." The Jaguars drew 10 penalties, six of which were unsportsmanlike conduct penalties. Asked about the officiating overall, Mularkey said, "I'm not going to go there, because I'm not going to get the fine that comes with it."
*Mularkey, also as he did Thursday night, said the rash of personal-foul penalties in the game won't be tolerated. "We don't want the unsportsmanlike-conduct penalties," Mularkey said. "Players have been told that, and it has been reinforced again this morning. That's not who we are as a team. It will never be that way."
*Mularkey said he will discuss with the NFL several calls that could have gone either way Thursday, citing specifically unsportsmanlike conduct penalties on Blackmon and Brewster. "I want to get clarification that I know what the rules are so when I talk to the players there is no gray," Mularkey said. "I'm even unclear."
*Mularkey said one call the officials absolutely got right was a would-be reception by wide receiver Cecil Shorts. On the play, Shorts caught what would have been a 32-yard pass, had possession with two feet in bounds, then stepped out of bounds. When he fell, the ball came out as he hit the ground and officials ruled it incomplete upon review. Mularkey said the ruling was correct, because a receiver must possess the ball to the ground. "The only reason I know that is it's happened to me so many times that I know that rule," Mularkey said.
*Mularkey said coverages dictated that wide receiver Laurent Robinson was the target of more passes than any other Jaguars receiver Thursday. The Colts spent a lot of the game with a single-high safety, which made Robinson a primary target. "It was not force-fed by any means to him." Robinson was targeted 15 times, catching nine passes for 77 yards. Mularkey said while rookie wide receiver Justin Blackmon was targeted five times, that was also a result of Colts coverage.
*Late in the press conference, Mularkey was asked what he would tell fans of a team that has not played as well as many believed it would before the season. "I want them to know that this team deserves better, because they have done everything that we have asked them to do," he said. "The end result hasn't been what we wanted. They have a team out there that is certainly, I believe and our staff believes, is doing their best – trying to do their best. We're making too many mistakes that we have to overcome ourselves first. Before we can beat anybody we have to stop beating ourselves. It's important that the fans know how important it is for our team that they do well and want to do well and they need the fans. They need the support. They're not trying to make anybody mad and disappointed. That's not their intent. We are out there and when we step on the field, we feel like we're going to win the game. We have for nine games now, and that won't stop because of the way they go in and come to work every day. They have a blue-collar type of mentality and they want to win for the fans. So does the staff. We will continue to do that and we will continue to look for their support."