The Jacksonville Jaguars feel there’s plenty of motivation in their final game despite having no playoff berth on the line. There are some Indianapolis Colts fans who may be pulling for the Jaguars as well.
Sunday’s finale at EverBank Field is far from meaningless for both the Colts and Jaguars, who will try to end the year on a high note.
Ever since it became clear that Peyton Manning would not return from a second neck surgery, the question coming out of Indianapolis (2-13) has been whether the Colts would pursue likely No. 1 overall pick Andrew Luck out of Stanford in the NFL draft.
Back-to-back wins after an 0-13 start have left Indianapolis tied with St. Louis for the NFL’s worst record, but the Colts would “win” the tiebreaker and pick first if they finish with the same number of victories. The Rams host the playoff-bound San Francisco 49ers on Sunday.
Team owner Jim Irsay said Indianapolis won’t shop Manning around and, provided he’s healthy, he’ll be the starter next year. However, there is no doubt the Colts would like some insurance for Manning, who turns 36 in March, and to start grooming his eventual successor.
The two wins—including a 19-16 victory over Houston on Dec. 22—may have put the Luck sweepstakes in jeopardy, but they may have saved coach Jim Caldwell’s job.
Meanwhile, Indianapolis players aren’t concerned with the faction of fans who would probably prefer a loss in the finale.
“That’s not for the players to worry about,” running back Joseph Addai said. “I don’t worry about that. I just go out and keep playing ball.”
Wayne made a 1-yard touchdown catch with 19 seconds remaining in the victory over the Texans and needs 113 yards for an eighth straight 1,000-yard season. Wayne had a season-best eight catches for 106 yards in Week 16.
In a season filled with lows for the Colts, their 17-3 loss at home to Jacksonville on Nov. 13 may be one of the worst. Indianapolis recorded just 212 yards of offense while giving up 114 rushing yards to Maurice Jones-Drew.
Jones-Drew is looking for another big day Sunday as he tries to clinch the NFL’s season rushing title. He currently leads the league with 1,437 yards rushing, 128 more than Philadelphia’s LeSean McCoy.
While starting rookie Blaine Gabbert at quarterback, the Jaguars (4-11) have leaned heavily on Jones-Drew, who has accounted for 46.5 percent of Jacksonville’s offense this season. That leads the NFL and would shatter Fred Taylor’s team record (36.2 percent) set in 2003.
If he does win the rushing title, Jones-Drew 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.
“He’s been a beast,” guard Uche Nwaneri said. “Everyone knows we’re going to run it and they still can’t stop him. It’s unbelievable.”
The game will be the team’s last under owners Wayne and Delores Weaver, who helped bring the franchise to Jacksonville in 1995. Shahid Khan bought the Jaguars two weeks ago for $760 million and will officially take over Jan. 4.
“Mr. and Mrs. Weaver mean a lot to this city, and our fans and our players know that, our coaches know that,” interim coach Mel 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.”
The Weavers haven’t had much to enjoy in recent years. The Jaguars, who have lost five of six, including a 23-17 defeat at Tennessee last Saturday, haven’t recorded a winning season since 2007.
While not to blame for the team’s finish, Gabbert continues to experience growing pains. He completed 21 of 42 passes for 198 yards and an interception last week in another shaky outing.
Gabbert has the NFL’s worst passer rating (64.3), is completing just 50.5 percent of his passes and has as many touchdowns (11) as interceptions.
Jacksonville is averaging 14.9 points - 29th in the league - and 279.9 yards of offense - last in the NFL. However, while Gabbert may not be developing as fast as some would like, Tucker thinks with time, Gabbert will be effective.
“We’re always looking for more consistency, but that’s at every position,” Tucker said. “Just looking at his development over the season, I think his arrow is up.”