JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser examines four Jacksonville Jaguars-related topics as the team prepares to play the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis Sunday …
4. Fighting to the finish. We begin this post-Christmas Fab Four with Maurice Jones-Drew, who may or may not be playing his final game for the Jaguars Sunday – but who absolutely isn’t acting like it either way. Jones-Drew, a three-time Pro Bowl running back and the Jaguars’ second-round selection in the 2006 NFL, is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent after the season. Because he is the franchise’s most-high profile player, there has been constant speculation on his future. There also were questions about the team possibly shutting him down late in the season because of a hamstring injury. That didn’t happen, at least in part because Jones-Drew very much didn’t want it to happen. That speaks volumes about why he has been one of the league’s best running backs during his career. Yes, Jones-Drew is talented, but just as much of his success has come from passionately wanting to perform well. In 2011, he won the rushing title by squeezing every yard from every carry behind an offensive line that wasn’t the dominant unit it had been before and on legs that probably weren’t quite as fast and dynamic as they had been before microfracture knee surgery less than a year before. Now, as his eighth season – and perhaps final season with the Jaguars – closes, he is doing what he long has done for the Jaguars: playing hard, regardless of playoff implications and through difficult circumstances. “I play because I love it,” Jones-Drew said. “You want to finish the season strong. You’re going to have so many hits on your body anyway. When my body tells me I can’t do it anymore, I can’t do it anymore. While I can, I’m going to try to get as much out of it as I can. That’s why I play this game. That’s how I’m always going to go about it.” This isn’t to say this is necessarily Jones-Drew’s last game with this franchise. He and Jaguars General Manager David Caldwell each want him to return. But if it is his final Jaguars season, he’s going out with maximum effort and through significant adversity. Fitting.
3. The last time for real this time. Center Brad Meester was the focal point of media and fan attention last week, and with reason: he was playing his final game at EverBank Field. This weekend, Meester will play his final NFL game and he said this week he is going through the emotions that accompany that reality. “That’s hitting me a little bit already,” Meester said. “I’m going through a lot of the lasts – the lasts of this and the lasts of that. It’s going to be tough. Sunday was emotional, but when it comes to this Sunday, going out there for the last time and knowing that when the game’s over that’s it, it will be kind of tough. I’ll know that was it, that I’ll never step on the field again.” Meester last week announced that this season will be his last after 14 NFL seasons – all with the Jaguars. The team honored him before and after the game, and he also lined up at tight end to catch a pass for the first time in his career. Meester said as he approaches the final game he does so knowing beyond question the time is right. “Even last year I decided to come back because I was afraid of the regret part,” Meester said. “As the season went on, I came to realize I was ready. I know it’s time. I can tell it’s time. The family is a big reason, but I can tell from a play standpoint I’m not where I’d like it to be. I feel it’s the right time, and it gives me an opportunity to go out on my own terms and go out the right way. I’ll play one more time Sunday with my family there, and that will be it.”
2. Analytically speaking. With injuries mounting, it’s perhaps unsurprising there were few standout grades for the Jaguars Sunday against Tennessee. Safety Winston Guy registered his first positive grade of the season from Pro Football Focus’ graders, and middle linebacker Paul Posluszny continued a strong second half of the season with a third positive grade in the last four games. Linebackers John Lotulelei and J.T. Thomas, starting for Geno Hayes and Russell Allen, registered negative grades, but there were no extreme grades defensively, positively or negatively. Offensively, it was pretty much the same story, with right tackle Austin Pasztor and center Brad Meester grading negatively. Then again, Meester didn’t grade out as a receiver, either. For the season, Jones-Drew has the Jaguars’ highest grade – bolstered in no small part by one of the NFL’s highest blocking grades for a running back. Defensively, cornerback Will Blackmon and Sen’Derrick Marks continue to have the highest grades on the team, with defensive end Ryan Davis, cornerback Alan Ball, cornerback Mike Harris and cornerback Dwayne Gratz continuing to grade positively.
1. And finally, a word on the quarterback. As we approach the final game of the season – and perhaps the final game with the Jaguars’ current quarterback room – we’ll finish this Fab Four on quarterback Chad Henne. Among fans of this quarterback-starved franchise, there are many, many who criticize Henne constantly. Criticism comes with the position, and among Henne’s strengths is an ability to shut out the noise and play with necessary leadership and professionalism. But with the regular-season finale approaching, it should be noted what Henne has done for this franchise. He took over the quarterback role at midseason and quarterbacked an offense that significantly improved from early in the season. He also did it without a dominant running game and a receiving corps that did not have Justin Blackmon the second half of the season. Henne in the last four games has thrown eight touchdown passes and four interceptions, a span in which the Jaguars were also without Cecil Shorts III for two games. Henne has thrown two touchdown passes in each of the last four games. No quarterback in Jaguars history has done that. As much as some want to criticize him, at least some credit should go his way, too.