JACKSONVILLE – The Jaguars are hot. And that's no joke.
But as the Jaguars on Monday returned from a late-season "mini-bye" to begin preparing for the second of three consecutive home games, the focus and the message wasn't about maintaining their first winning streak in three years.
While winning during the last month has been great, Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley's message throughout the season has been about finishing strong.
The Jaguars' goal is to do that and to keep doing it in the way they have done it all season:
Working to improve every day, and letting the results take care of themselves.
"We feel good about what we've done, but he (Bradley) has said all year, 'It's not how you start; it's how you finish,'" Jaguars linebacker Russell Allen said Monday as the Jaguars (4-9) began early preparations to play the Buffalo Bills (4-9) at EverBank Field Sunday at 1 p.m.
"These last three games are going to be huge for us going into the offseason the way we feel about our progress. Would we like to win? Of course. But it's really about everybody playing to their potential and feeling good about that going into the offseason."
The Jaguars after an 0-8 start, have won four of their last five games, including a three-game winning streak – 13-6 at Houston on November 24, 29-27 at Cleveland on December 1 and 27-20 over Houston at EverBank Field last Thursday.
Their last three-game winning streak was in the middle of the 2010 season. They haven't won four consecutive games since 2007, the last season they made the playoffs.
"There is momentum, but to keep it going we've got to keep doing what we've been doing," Jaguars wide receiver Cecil Shorts III said. "We have to keep getting better on offense, keep making plays on defense and keep doing it on special teams. There's always room for improvement and we have to keep getting better."
The victory over Houston Thursday was the Jaguars' first at EverBank Field this season, and the three-game winning streak is tied for the longest in the AFC.
Jaguars guard Uche Nwaneri on Monday was asked about being the hottest team in the AFC.
"That's us?" Nwaneri asked, tongue-in-cheek, adding, "It's always a good feeling when you win, and when you're able to string multiple games together, it really brings a new life to the locker room to the coaches, to the organization in general. That's with any team, whether you have a winning record or not. It really gives a boost to the franchise from a morale and an excitement standpoint."
Nwaneri called the victory over Houston Thursday perhaps the most fun game in which he has played since at least 2010.
"The environment was electric," Nwaneri said. "Our fan base really showed up and brought the energy. We came out and performed well and got our first win at home. Those things, regardless of record, really show the arrow pointing up for your team."
The Jaguars on Monday also gathered to begin preparations believing they will benefit from the break in the schedule provided by playing last Thursday.
The Jaguars worked straight from the Wednesday before the Cleveland game until the night of the victory over Houston, and Shorts III said following a stretch like that three days off was important.
"It will be good to get back in the groove," Shorts III said. "It (the weekend off) was good for us, because we had a very short week last week. It was like a mini-bye week for us, and I think it will definitely help us get ready for Buffalo."
Said Nwaneri: "Having a couple of extra days really is going to be good for us. You're not gone so long that you forget you're still playing, but you have enough free time to let those aches and pains sort of heat back up. I think it will be a benefit for us."
And Nwaneri said it's important the Jaguars use that benefit to their advantage – and to maintain what's been going for the last month. The momentum built over the last five weeks has been great, and Nwaneri said what would be greater would be to feel the same way come January.
"It's really important," Nwaneri said. "You can take different feelings out of a season and take them into your next season. They talk about the Super Bowl hangover and they talk about finishing strong at the end of a season to have that carry over.
"I believe that's really true. We have an opportunity to really finish strong and set ourselves up feeling good going into our offseason. Regardless of our record, when you're able to have that turnaround like we're starting to show and you take that into an offseason, that allows you to start to see the potential and see where it can go.
"That builds another level of excitement."
"Honestly, the message doesn't change," Allen said. "That's what's so great about this steam. We were 0-8 and not playing the way we wanted to and the message didn't change. Now, we've won four out of five and feeling good about where we're headed and the message won't change."
"It's certainly more fun," We've seen those things all year. We've been saying since Week One there's a lot to be excited about. It was going to take time. We're not where we want to be, but we're certainly heading in the right direction."