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The day is growing near

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They promise to be the most difficult days of Mark Brunell's nine-year Jaguars career. He knows what's ahead; he accepted as much when he openly campaigned to remain with the Jaguars.

At some point, Byron Leftwich will replace him at quarterback. It's going to happen. Brunell knows it will, but he wants to delay the process.

Not likely, and Brunell knows that, too.

So, when will it happen? This Sunday in Houston? Did we actually see the change made for good today in Indianapolis? Was this Brunell's last hurrah as the Jaguars' starting quarterback?

Coach Jack Del Rio hesitated enough when asked that question to raise suspicion that if it doesn't happen this Sunday, we are at least rapidly approaching the point that it will.

New era? Sure. Brunell knows it.

"I'll make personnel decisions as we talk as a staff. I don't want to make knee-jerk decisions based on emotions right now," Del Rio said in a small interview room in the basement of the RCA Dome Sunday. In that same room last December, Tom Coughlin conducted his final press conference as Jaguars head coach.

Del Rio knew the question was coming. He had to have been prepared for it. His hesitation to pronounce Brunell next Sunday's starter speaks volumes.

"Mark was battling through a banged-up elbow and was misfiring quite a bit. It was an easy decision," Del Rio said when asked about inserting Leftwich into the game for the Jaguars' final, meaningless drive.

It was the second consecutive week that occurred, and for the second consecutive week it produced a touchdown. But that's minor compared to the decision's real effect; it will have further whipped up discouraged Jaguars fans into an angry "Play Leftwich" mob.

We all knew it would come to this eventually. We knew as much on draft day. There was no chance it wouldn't happen.

"It's just not going the way I had hoped. I don't have time for it not to come together," Brunell said, mindful that if he's to have one more season in the Jacksonville "sunshine," it'll have to be this season. He knows what this winter will bring. He knows this is his farewell tour in teal.

What about being pulled on consecutive weeks? He was once pulled by Coughlin in the fourth quarter against Baltimore, and Brunell fumed inwardly. But those were different days. Then, he truly was "The Man." He was loosened from that claim on draft day last spring. He'll admit as much.

"It doesn't disappoint me that they put Byron in," Brunell said of Leftwich's appearance with 2:29 to play in Sunday's game and the Jaguars trailing the Colts 23-6. "What disappoints me is that it got to that point," Brunell added.

"My perspective is it's still early and a lot can happen. I think of what Marc Edwards says: 'We're 1-3 and we win the Super Bowl,'" Brunell said in quoting Edwards' recall of the Patriots' Super Bowl title season of two years ago. "I have to think that way," Brunell added.

It's what gets him through the hard times. He has to stay positive to make it through a season that is likely to produce the most negative experience of his football life. At some point, he's likely to lose his job, and that time is rapidly approaching. He knows it's undeniable, and he accepted that inevitability when he all but pleaded for the Jaguars to keep him.

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