The Jaguars have had their share of peaks and valleys through 10 games of the 2002 season. A three-game winning streak capped off by a win over the Philadelphia Eagles, a four-game losing streak highlighted by a loss to the expansion Houston Texans at home, and a win over Steve Spurrier's Washington Redskins. Through all of that, nothing has been decided.
Jacksonville is 5-5 and one game back of division leaders Indianapolis and Tennessee. Tom Coughlin is ready to close the door on those 10 games and move on to a new season. A shorter season that kicks off this weekend in Dallas.
"I think what we will do is we'll talk about the six-game schedule, point out, as we have been, in our division where things are but still realize that it's just one game, with no margin for error, one game. That's the way it is," Coughlin said.
Jacksonville is in the playoff hunt in late November for the first time in three years. That simple fact has given an energy to Coughlin's football team that hasn't been there in recent years. It has given players and coaches something to strive for other than pride. It also makes the work place a little more enjoyable.
"It's very encouraging. It's fun," Coughlin said today. "This is why you work your tail off for as long as you do is to get into this kind of circumstance, and now you have to produce. You have to understand it and deal with it. To get your football team into December in the hunt, that's what this thing is about."
The Jaguars are at a disadvantage entering this second season of 2002, however. While the standings show the Jaguars trailing Tennessee and Indianapolis by one game, they are, in reality, two games behind them. That is due to the fact that they trail the division leaders in the division's tie breaker.
After head-to-head competition, the second tie breaker in determining division winners is division records. The Jaguars lost their first game to both the Colts and Titans, and at 1-3 in the division they are well back of the 3-0 Titans and the 2-1 Colts. That being the situation, Jacksonville must beat Tennessee and Indianapolis outright.
But for a team that was on a four game losing streak at 3-5 a few short weeks ago, the Jaguars will take their current position.
"We're trying to be very much aware of where we are, what we've overcome in the four weeks when we weren't very happy," Coughlin said. "An idea with real humility about what's in front of us, what's on the table and what it's going to take to make a legitimate competitive run at this division. I think that's the approach."
With two games against sub .500 competition, and a crack at each of the AFC South co-leaders remaining, the Jaguars have an opportunity to make that run. Jacksonville has been too inconsistent this season to look past anyone, but Coughlin says that being aware of the possibilities that remain is an important factor in a team's attitude.
"I think for the player this is the best of all motivational opportunities. It's there and you determine your own destiny to a certain extent," he said. "You have to take care of what's directly in front of you. You have to find ways to win and ways to play well when you know that each game week in and week out is as difficult as it can be no matter who the opponent is."
Coughlin saw this type of performance from one player in particular. Quarterback Mark Brunell's stats, while decent, do not reflect the effort that he gave on Sunday. Brunell was sacked five times in the game, but he escaped the clutches of several Texans throughout the course of the game, made correct audibles, and threw well on the run, including one strike to Jimmy Smith for a touchdown while rolling to his right.
"Outstanding," Coughlin said of Brunell's performance. "As I broke it down this morning, he made six plays above the X's and O's yesterday that were just outstanding plays."
The Jaguars are hoping to have a six-game season full of those plays.