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View from the O-Zone: It ain't over yet


JACKSONVILLE – Pump the brakes on packing, people. The 2016 season ain't over yet.

Indeed, something unexpected happened on the way to the Jaguars playing out what has been a historically disappointing season:

They played their way into a meaningful regular-season finale.

And if you're looking at the standings and playoff scenarios and other on-paper stuff that says that's not true, listen to what they're saying around EverBank Field this week.

"Guys are playing for something," Blake Bortles said.

Yes, Sunday in Indianapolis matters – and not just to a quarterback who could gain a lot from a second consecutive really good game.

"You want to end off on a good note," wide receiver Allen Hurns said. "This year has been a disaster for every one of us, so you want to go out on a high note – play well and get two wins in our last two games. As an organization, we need this going into next year.

"We all know what the season has been, but to go out on a good note – that would be important for us and where we're headed."

Meaningless? The 2016 New Year's Day regular-season finale? No way. No how.

"All games matter," Jaguars wide receiver Allen Robinson said. "If you truly know the business of the NFL, each and every game matters."

No, Jaguars-Colts Sunday has nothing to do with the postseason. In that way, it has much in common with pretty much every Week 17 AFC game in a season in which the contenders drew a bold line between themselves and all others during a decisive December. This weekend's schedule for many teams is about playing for the sake of playing – and because league rules say you gotta play.

Still, there's no feeling of meaningless around the 'Bank this week.

One reason is Interim Head Coach Doug Marrone. Teams with late-season interim coaches can go one of two ways. There is the way of playing out the string, and while that rarely means a lack of effort, it can lead to players playing for themselves more than team – and that can lead to a lot of late-season losing. The Jaguars under Marrone went the other way Saturday in a decisive 38-17 victory over Tennessee, turning in their best game of the season: focused and motivated, with a combination of looseness and urgency.

Can Marrone and the Jaguars find that balance again?

If they do, and if the Jaguars win Sunday, that would enhance Marrone's chances at the permanent job. A week ago, Marrone getting the job seemed like a long shot. It seems less so now. It would seem even less so with a victory Sunday.

But whatever the storyline around Marrone, Sunday's game matters. Whatever the offseason holds, the current core of the roster will remain the core next season. Jalen Ramsey. Dante Fowler Jr. Yannick Ngakoue. Myles Jack. Telvin Smith. Allen Robinson. Allen Hurns. Marqise Lee. Brandon Linder.

That's a big part of the Jaguars' core. And while Bortles has been shaky at best this season, there's a better than even chance he's the starting quarterback next season.

That group believed strongly in itself entering the season, and the players for the most part kept believing all season. The belief had to have waned at least somewhat during the nine-game losing streak that defined the season. Still, it held firm that these players believed they were better than their record.

That belief is good, but without success it means little.

Saturday's game was the first sign of such success, and make no mistake:

That victory over Tennessee was a real victory. While it meant nothing to the Jaguars in terms of the postseason, it meant everything to the Titans. This was a Tennessee team that was not only fighting for the postseason, but was playing better than any other team in the AFC South. The Titans were good, and contending.

The Jaguars hadn't beaten a good, contending team in a long time – probably since they beat the Ravens in prime time in 2011. They not only beat the Titans, they never trailed – and they won in convincing fashion.

That's the sort of victory that can be a building point.

If the Jaguars win in Indianapolis Sunday, players can go into the offseason with a two-game winning streak – and one of those victories will be a truly impressive victory. If they lose … well, it doesn't make the Tennessee game meaningless, but it dims the shine a little.

So, yes – the offseason is approaching and soon enough players will be cleaning their lockers and saying good-bye. Soon enough, we will be talking about Bortles' offseason routine. Soon enough, we will be talking draft and free agency.

Soon enough – really, really soon – we will be neck-deep in the head-coaching search and all that that implies. But for now, pump the brakes on packing, people, and turn the ignition off for a couple of days. There's a meaningful game remaining.

And the Jaguars' 2016 season ain't over yet.

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