There may a sense of finality Sunday when coach Mike Mularkey of the Jaguars and Mike Munchak of the Tennessee Titans exchange post-game handshakes. Regardless of which team wins the season finale, both coaches have struggled through disappointing seasons that have raised questions about their job security. The Titans are 5-10 after being routed by Green Bay, 55-7, last Sunday while the Jaguars fell to 2-13 and were guaranteed the worst record in team history after losing to New England, 23-16.
When Maurice Jones-Drew ended his holdout Sept. 2 and participated in his first position meeting a day later, Jaguars running backs coach Sylvester Croom thought he had a little bit of everything at his disposal. He had Jones-Drew, the NFL’s reigning rushing champion. He had Rashad Jennings, who rushed for 209 yards in the preseason to calm any worries about his 2011 knee injury. And in reserve, he had veteran Montell Owens and newcomer Jalen Parmele, who could produce if needed.
Fifteen down, one to go. Although the first 15 games of the 2012 NFL regular season haven’t gone precisely as the Jaguars hoped – nothing like they had hoped, actually – Mike Mularkey said that doesn’t change the approach this week. Players said the same thing. Yes, 2-13 is very disappointing. And 3-13 wouldn’t be a lot better. But Mularkey, in his first season as the Jaguars’ head coach, said there is something bigger, more important at stake Sunday against the Tennessee Titans than a one-game improvement in the final regular-season record: A positive, memorable finish.
Cecil Shorts will be missed in the regular-season finale. That much is obvious, considering the second-year wide receiver was the Jaguars’ most consistent big-play threat this season – and maybe the best offensive player. But with Shorts having been placed on injured reserve, the bigger question for Sunday is who will take his place in the lineup. The answer, according to Head Coach Mike Mularkey, is many, many players – and none of them particularly well-known.