Jaguars have plenty of motivation for finale
The Jacksonville Jaguars have plenty to play for in Sunday's season finale.
They want to give outgoing owner Wayne Weaver a victory in his final game. They want to get Maurice Jones-Drew the league rushing title. They want to keep the defense ranked in the top five.
All are realistic goals against the suddenly streaking Indianapolis Colts (2-13), who have won two in a row against AFC South opponents. Interim coach Mel Tucker reminded his players of everything at stake during a team meeting Monday.
What he didn't mention was any of those draft scenarios that have dominated outside conversation, especially not the one in which the Jaguars (4-11) could prevent the Colts from having the top pick in April.
Instead, it's about winning for the Weavers, getting yards for MoJo and making stops on defense. If all those happen Sunday, the Jaguars would end a mostly forgettable season with some positive memories.
''That's an extra piece of motivation,'' defensive end Jeremy Mincey said. ''You're only as good as your last game, and we want to make a great showing and move into the 2012 season with some momentum.''
The Jaguars are planning a special tribute to Wayne and Delores Weaver, who led the charge to get an expansion team in Jacksonville in 1993. Somehow, and to some surprise, the Weavers landed a team in one of the professional sport's smallest markets. Wayne Weaver controlled the team for 17 seasons, although the 76-year-old businessman spent the last few looking for an exit strategy. He found one last fall when he began negotiations to sell the franchise to Shahid Khan.
The $760 million deal was approved two weeks ago, and Khan will officially take over Jan. 4.
So the finale is Weaver's farewell.
''Mr. and Mrs. Weaver mean a lot to this city, and our fans and our players know that, our coaches know that,'' Tucker said. ''We want to put our best foot forward in their last game. Quite frankly, we'll give everything we can for them to finish on a high note. That's very, very important to this football team.''
Equally important is getting Jones-Drew the rushing title.
MJD leads the NFL with 1,437 yards on the ground, 128 yards more than Philadelphia's LeSean McCoy. Jacksonville's short and stocky star has been the offense's lone bright spot this season. He's averaging 4.5 yards a carry against eight- and nine-man defensive fronts and with little threat of a passing game.
Rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert has been slow to learn the nuances of playing the most important position in team sports, and he's been hampered by dropped passes, poor routes and shaky protection. And with a receiving corps that lacks big-play ability, the Jaguars have been forced to rely on Jones-Drew.
Boy, have they.
Jones-Drew has accounted for 46.5 percent of Jacksonville's offense this season, which leads the NFL and is on pace to shatter Fred Taylor's team record (36.2 percent) set in 2003. If he does win the rushing title, MoJo would become just the second player since 1995 to lead the league in rushing while having the NFL's worst passing offense. Baltimore's Jamal Lewis also did it in 2003.
In some regards, MJD's season has been as impressive as a 2,000-yard performance.
His longest run is 43 yards. His biggest game is 122 yards. And he's accounted for at least 40 percent of the team's offense in 11 of 15 games.
''He's been a beast,'' guard Uche Nwaneri said. ''You just can't describe how good he's been, how much he's carried us. What he's done he's done every game, every week, regardless of the opponents, regardless of the defenses. Everyone knows we're going to run it and they still can't stop him. It's unbelievable.''
Jacksonville's defense has been resilient, too.
The unit kept the Jaguars in just about every game early in the season. But after season-ending injuries to a dozen defensive backs, several defensive linemen and a starting linebacker, the defense has dipped in recent weeks. But players and coaches want to stay in the top five.
''The ranking is everything,'' Mincey said. ''To still be in the top five in the league, I think that's pretty impressive given we had so many guys get hurt. That's a lot to play for.''
But most of the external talk this week has centered on the draft.
If the Jaguars beat Indianapolis, the Colts would secure the No. 1 pick in the draft. So essentially Jacksonville can help provide the Colts the opportunity to draft Stanford's Andrew Luck, which means the possibility of delivering another top-tier quarterback prospect to the Colts. The Jaguars have faced - and struggled against - Peyton Manning twice a year since 2002.
''No one in this locker room is concerned with that,'' linebacker Paul Posluszny said. That's all stuff going on the outside. Trust me, we want to win more than anything. We have a lot of stuff that we are very proud of, and we want to finish strong this last game.
''We have a horrible record. We're not going to the playoffs. But we have a lot on the line.''