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Not feeling the spirit

Posted Dec 24, 2011

Even the holidays not enough to make Jones-Drew smile.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – You likely won’t see Maurice Jones-Drew Sunday, it being Christmas and all. If by some strange circumstance you do, don’t expect giddy greetings or well-wishes.

MoJo just, plain ain’t in the mood.

To be fair, Jones-Drew hasn’t been in the mood for a while. Never mind the individual accolades. Never mind one of the grittiest, gutsiest seasons you can imagine – a season that only got grittier and gutsier in another play-through-the-hurt-and-discount-it-later effort Saturday.

This losing? The missed opportunities?

They bother a lot of people around the Jaguars. Certainly they bother interim coach Mel Tucker, and they bother defensive tackle Terrance Knighton, who expressed amazement and frustration after Sunday’s 23-17 loss that the Jaguars’ once-stifling-now-limping defense just couldn’t get Titans quarterback Matt Hasselbeck off the field.

So, it’s probably overstating it to say that no one in the Jaguars’ locker room is bothered as much by losing as Jones-Drew. But Jones-Drew is the main story for the Jaguars, and the main story for the Jaguars isn’t thinking Happy Holiday thoughts.

Asked about being able to enjoy the holiday with his family in spite of the loss, Jones-Drew shrugged.

“It’s Christmas,” he said. “It’s a bad Christmas.”

He wasn’t smiling. When a reporter asked about being around his children, his mood didn’t improve.

“They can be jolly,” he said. “I’ll be sulking in my sorrows.”

That, as much as anything, is why this post-game editorial doesn’t focus more than it does on what Jones-Drew accomplished statistically Saturday. Focusing on those things just doesn’t feel right when the player accomplishing then isn’t enjoying it more.

Is Jones-Drew aware that his 103 yards rushing on 24 carries keeps him solidly in the lead for his first NFL rushing title? Is he aware that he now is 135 yards shy of the franchise rushing record of 1,572 set by Fred Taylor in 2003?

Absolutely, and Jones-Drew just as absolutely wants to accomplish those things.

But it’s more than lip service when Jones-Drew said milestones don’t much matter, and you did get the idea moments after the game that he was genuine when he said he just didn’t want to discuss those topics given the gloom of Saturday’s post-game.

“It doesn’t mean anything,” he said. “We’re 4-11. I don’t see any goals for me at 4-11. It’s a team game. It’s past frustrating. It hurts.”

His teammates, of course, feel a bit differently, and because it’s more politically correct for them to discuss the topic, they discussed it at length this week. Uche Nwaneri said not only would Jones-Drew win the rushing title, that he would get the franchise record. Brad Meester, too, said there’s no question the offensive line wants the title and the record.

They want this for their teammate, and an example of why they want it – not the first example this season and probably not the last, but certainly a darned good one – came after the Jaguars’ first play from scrimmage Saturday.

Jones-Drew practiced limited throughout this past week – this after he had rolled an ankle in Atlanta the previous week and played through it. He started the game Saturday with the ankle taped, and on the Jaguars’ first play, the ankle got rolled again.

Jones-Drew limped from the field. Jaguars Trainer Mike Ryan furiously rewrapped the ankle.

Jones-Drew returned on the following series and played the rest of the game.

It would be great if the next paragraph talked about how Jones-Drew carried the Jaguars on his back the rest of the game for a victory, just as it would be great if more stories this season were about how Jones-Drew led the Jaguars to victory.

This Jaguars season hasn’t been great, and because of that, when we write about Jones-Drew we write more about a player playing with courage, playing with heart, playing with determination. This is the real world of the NFL, and for Jones-Drew, the reality is what may be his best season individually is coming in maybe the most disappointing Jaguars season in many years.

That makes the story tougher to write, and it makes the ending less happy, but it doesn’t make it a bad story. And it darned sure doesn’t diminish what Jones-Drew has done this season.

It has gotten difficult to find new ways to describe Jones-Drew’s season, but the word I keep coming back to in recent weeks is professionalism.

This season in many ways has been a chore for Jones. Whereas in his younger days, he could rely on breakaway runs for a relatively easy 50-yard gain now and again, long runs have been rare this season. Just this past week, he bemoaned his inability to finish perhaps his best breakaway run this season – a 43-yarder against Atlanta last week. Jones-Drew said he should have scored, and that he was embarrassed he didn’t. He said he plans to work on his speed this off-season.

Jones-Drew’s season has been not about the spectacular, but about the basic. His highest-yardage total of the season has been 122 yards. His longest run – the 43-yarder against Atlanta. This is not a season for the highlight reel – rather, it has been about 5- and 6- and 8-yard runs. Rare has been the run on which he hasn’t been hit. Shoot, rare has been the run on which he hasn’t been hit two or three times and hit pretty hard.

No, Jones-Drew’s season this season hasn’t been spectacular.

It has been better. It has been about effort, and doing whatever it takes to get every yard. It has been in every sense a great professional season by a great professional player who would far rather have more victories and fewer yards.

So, if strangely enough you see him Sunday and he ain’t smiling, give him a break. He may not be in the mood, but he darned sure has earned the right not to be.



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