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Right time to campaign


CINCINNATI--It was a win that lifted Mark Brunell's spirits. OK, it was against the 1-13 Bengals, which shouldn't have provided much of a rush for a player of Brunell's stature, but it must say something about his desire to remain the Jaguars' quarterback next season that Brunell used Sunday's win to campaign for his future with the team.

"I would certainly like to be a part of next year," Brunell said following a performance that included a 127.5 passer rating in a 29-15 victory.

So what's wrong with a little politicking? What's so bad about wanting it to be known you like where you play and you want to continue to play there?

Jacksonville is Mark Brunell's town. He's repeatedly made it known he wants to finish his career there. In a day and age of "take the money and run," why shouldn't it be flattering to Jacksonville's pro football fans that one of the game's most esteemed quarterbacks is desperate to remain among them?

Some believe a decision on Brunell's future will have to be made this winter. Some believe he represents an attractive salary cap savings and trade option for the Jaguars. It's given Brunell cause for concern.

"It's a thought," he admitted. "We have a good, young quarterback behind me. That's a decision the head coach and management will have to make."

As the Jaguars draw nearer the end of this season, they inch closer to the real drama. Everyone wants to know what's going to happen when this season ends. Will there be changes at the top? Will there be a re-structuring of the football administration? If there are changes, what will they mean? Brunell is one of those who's anxious to know.

"Right now, It's finish strong. It's going to say a lot about what kind of football team we are. Hopefully, it'll be something this young team can build on for a long time," Brunell said.

"I'd like this group of guys to stick together. I think it's important to carry on what we built this year," he added.

His words were measured. Always, it was implied he considered himself part of "this group of guys." So what's wrong with that?

"I think I've had a good year," he continued. "I haven't had too many mistakes. With a young team, you have to be smart with the football, and I think I've been smart with the football."

A week previously, Brunell couldn't have made the same claims. He had passed for a mere 54 yards. He was under fire and his critics asked: "Why are we paying more than $6 million a year for a guy who throws for 54 yards?"

Good point. But there's more to this story than Brunell's left arm.

Go back to training camp, when the simple act of completing a pass against the Jaguars' re-tooled defense was a daily chore. We asked then, what's wrong?

Following the return of Jimmy Smith, the passing game rebounded a bit in the first month of the season, but then it sagged again. We blamed it on the concussion Brunell suffered on Oct. 13 in Nashville.

The simple fact of the matter is that what we saw in training camp was real. The offseason loss of Keenan McCardell hurt this team. Not even Smith could make up for McCardell's absence. The Jaguars needed another receiver to take the pressure off Smith, and they never really found that guy.

"No question," Brunell said in agreeing to the impact of McCardell's departure.

That's why Brunell is semi-proud of what he and the offense have been able to accomplish this season. They lacked weapons, but they managed to be competitive against the very best the schedule had to offer. And though there have been days this season when the timing wasn't right to make a campaign speech, he hoped the fans and media would figure it out for themselves.

"I think it's something we can be proud of. Hopefully, you guys will say we've done some good things," Brunell said.

They have.

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