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Open locker room: 'Guys are excited'


JACKSONVILLE – Don't tell Blake Bortles Week 17 is meaningless.

Personally and offensively, Sunday's 2016 regular-season finale against the Indianapolis Colts carries significance to the Jaguars' third-year quarterback.

It's a chance to finish strong as a team.

It's a chance to finish strong as an offense.

It's a chance to finish strong personally.

Perhaps most importantly, it's an opportunity for a second consecutive productive, consistent game to end a season that hasn't featured enough such games for either the Jaguars' offense – or for its quarterback.

"Guys are playing for something," Bortles said Wednesday as the Jaguars (3-12) prepared to play the Colts (7-8) at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Indiana, Sunday at 1 p.m.

That "something" isn't a playoff appearance. The Jaguars were eliminated from the postseason for a ninth consecutive season weeks ago, and a loss in Oakland Saturday eliminated Indianapolis for a second consecutive season.

So, what makes this one matter for Jacksonville?

Bortles said many reasons, and also he said there's no casualness among Jaguars players as they prepare for the second game under Interim Head Coach Doug Marrone. The Jaguars turned in their biggest victory of the season – and in several seasons – under Marrone last Saturday, and their 38-17 victory over Tennessee helped eliminate the Titans from the postseason.

"What Doug has done over the past week or so has been really good – put his touch a little bit onto the culture," Bortles said. "You can't really change everything or change anything for that matter in two weeks. I think Doug has done a really good job in a tough situation of finding ways to get guys excited to play. When you're 3-12, I think that's kind of hard to do in the NFL.

"Guys are excited. One more opportunity to go play the Colts."

Bortles said while the Jaguars are for now still very much former Head Coach Gus Bradley's team, Marrone's influence has been significant.

"It is a different voice," Bortles said. "It's coming from somebody different. It's a little bit different in what he's saying. I think it's good. I think the guys have responded well."

Bortles said while it's unknown if Marrone will become the permanent head coach, Sunday's game matters whoever coaches the team next season.

"Whether it's Doug or not, it's going to be a new coach next year and there's going to be film to watch on this year," he said. "You have one more opportunity to put something good on film for whoever that new head coach next year may be. It's a good chance to do that against a divisional opponent."

The Jaguars with a victory can win their final two games of a season for the first time since 2005, and they can finish 3-3 in the AFC South. They last went .500 in the AFC South in 2013.

"Those are the guys that you have to try and beat twice a year," Bortles said. "Any time you get a chance to play those guys, it's good."

Perhaps most notably for Bortles, Sunday presents an opportunity to do what he hasn't done often enough in his NFL career – put together back-to-back winning, consistent performances. He completed 17 of his first 18 passes against Tennessee Saturday and finished completing 26 of 38 passes for 325 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions. It was perhaps his best game of the season.

The Jaguars' offense finished with 415 yards – its second-highest total of the season – and the game marked the first time since a Week 4 victory over Indianapolis the Jaguars did not trail at any point in the game. The 21-point margin of victory was the team's largest of the season.

"I think last week, we showed that we can play consistently, kind of mistake-free football," Bortles said. "We still had some mistakes here and there that we need to clean up, but I think that was more of who we envisioned ourselves being all season, not Week 16. I think that's definitely what we want to try and replicate minus a couple of errors here and there."

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