The incentives get clearer and simpler by the week.
And offensive guard Uche Nwaneri said although the incentives for the Jaguars no longer involve the postseason, the final two games of the 2011 season still have meaning – even if it's not the meaning the Jaguars wanted three months ago.
Now, the motivations include:
Helping Maurice Jones-Drew finish the season in title-winning and record-setting fashion.
Finishing with a winning record in the AFC South.
Nwaneri and the rest of the Jaguars' offensive line – and indeed the entire Jaguars' offense – very much want the first to happen, and while Jones-Drew's race toward the NFL rushing title is the most high-profile remaining objective, the second matters, too.
Only once before, in 2005, have the Jaguars finished above .500 in the AFC South.
With victories in their final two games, they could do it again.
"The last two games against division rivals, that's the incentive, really," Nwaneri said as the Jaguars (4-10) prepared to play the Tennessee Titans (7-7) at LP Field in downtown Nashville, Tenn., Saturday at 1 p.m.
"These are guys you see every year. There's always a heightened sense of urgency against division opponents. I'd think everybody would be more intensely focused on these two teams. Definitely, there's motivation to play these division opponents."
The Jaguars, who have lost two of their last three games, not only play the Titans on the road Saturday, they close the regular season with at home against Indianapolis (1-13). The Jaguars beat Tennessee in the regular-season opener and won at Indianapolis in November.
They also lost twice to the Houston Texans, leaving them 2-2 in the division.
In 2005, the Jaguars finished 4-2 in the South with losses to Indianapolis, but aside from that, their best record in the division has been 3-3. How important is beating the division rivals?
Well, Jaguars defensive tackle Terrance Knighton said doing so isn't more important than making the post-season, but it is important enough to make the final two games matter more than they might otherwise.
"You always want to beat your division opponents regardless of what your record is," Knighton said. "In the end, we want to be in the playoffs. You want to finish strong, but ultimately, your job is to be in the playoffs.
"That (not making the post-season) bothers us, but you always want to end the season positive. That's something we could build off of."
Jones-Drew said the simple reality, too, is whatever the Jaguars' record this is a game against the Titans. Around Jacksonville, that makes it meaningful.
"I think that's big," Jones-Drew said. "That's definitely big – being able to go out and get another victory against the Titans. They're our rival, so that's something good to do."
Jones-Drew in recent weeks has eschewed talk of individual goals, but his teammates – particularly those on the offensive line – said this week Jones-Drew's individual accolades have very much assumed a team dynamic.
He leads the NFL in rushing by 60 yards over LeSean McCoy of Philadelphia, and at 1,334 yards for the season he is 238 yards off the franchise single-season rushing record of 1,572 set by Fred Taylor in 2003.
"You always want to finish the season strong," Jones-Drew said. "Everything you start you want to finish."
Victories in the last two games also would accomplish something else that Nwaneri said has been discussed within the team throughout the season – i.e., finishing on a different note than has been the case the last two seasons.
The Jaguars in 2009 were 7-5 through 12 games before losing their final four to miss the post-season. Last season they were 8-5 and leading the AFC South before a December loss in Indianapolis began a three-game season-ending losing streak.
"In years past, we didn't win our last game," Nwaneri said. "That was a goal we set out to accomplish last year, and this year also. I really do believe that's something a lot of guys are playing for."
Jaguars defensive tackle Tyson Alualu said it's actually unnecessary to comb through a list of incentives – that winning is reason enough for a team that, despite a 4-10 record, has played with desire and determination through a difficult season.
Shahid Khan, whose recent purchase of the Jaguars is expected to become official January 4, spoke to the players as a group last Saturday, two days after a 41-14 loss to Atlanta. Players afterward said Khan made it clear such performances wouldn't be acceptable, and made it equally clear he didn't mean simply in the long-term.
Alualu said the message was as unmistakable as it was correct.
"It's big for us," Alualu said of the final two-week stretch of the 2011 season. "With a new owner coming in, there are a lot of jobs on the line. It is what it is. It's the business part of the NFL, and if you want to stick around, you've got to perform. Losing is not acceptable to him. He said, 'We've got to start winning.' That makes everybody step their game up, put their best foot forward and move on.
"I don't think anybody's given up. We've brought in the right people, the right guys, the right character. I think that's doing the right things all the time. That comes with the love of the game. We won't just give up. We'll keep fighting until the end, until the season's over."