While not much has gone right for the Jacksonville Jaguars and Miami Dolphins, both teams have their sights set on finishing strong with the season winding down.
After a health scare earlier in the week, coach Mike Mularkey should be on the sidelines as the Jaguars try to avoid losing five in row on the road for the first time in nine seasons Sunday against a Dolphins team that's dropped five of six.
Tied for the NFL's worst record, Jacksonville (2-11) ranks 31st in total offense and defense, averaging 282.9 yards and allowing 394.5 per game. The Jaguars, who've surrendered 77 points in their last two road games, haven't lost five straight in opposing stadiums since going 0-8 in 2003.
"Even though it's late in the season, horrible record, we are trying to build something special and carry some positive momentum into the offseason," linebacker Paul Posluszny said. "We are at the most difficult point of the year: losing, bad record, no playoffs. But we still have to do things right because eventually, someday soon, this organization will be a playoff team and we've got to start putting those building blocks together sooner rather than later."
The Jaguars held the New York Jets scoreless in the first half last Sunday before falling 17-10. Jacksonville, which went 2 for 16 on third down, appeared to go up 10-0 in the second quarter after Dwight Lowery returned a fumble 62 yards for a touchdown, but the play was reviewed and called back after Lowery was ruled down. The Jaguars punted five plays later.
"We need things like that to happen for our team to help us win and help us with momentum," said Mularkey, who was briefly hospitalized Monday but checked out OK. "We're coming up short with them in one way or another."
Frustrations are also starting to take their toll on the Dolphins (5-8), who've been outscored by an average of 10.0 points and forced one turnover during a 1-5 stretch. Tied for last place in the AFC East, Miami is all but certain to miss the playoffs for the 10th time in 11 seasons.
"I don't know exactly what the answer is," said rookie Ryan Tannehill, whose eight TD passes rank last among quarterbacks with at least 280 passing attempts. "But we have to make the plays that are there. You can't win in this league scoring as few points as we are. It's frustrating."
Tannehill struggled to get much going again last Sunday in a 27-13 loss at San Francisco, completing 17 of 33 passes for 150 yards and a score as Miami was outgained 321-227.
"It's correctable," coach Joe Philbin said. "There were some plays there to be made on both sides of the ball that we didn't do. There were some opportunities we didn't capitalize on."
While the Dolphins could catch a break with Maurice Jones-Drew likely to miss an eighth straight game, Cecil Shorts appears on track to return after sitting out last week with a concussion. The emerging wideout has 20 receptions for 368 yards over his last four contests, scoring in each.
With backup running back Rashad Jennings yet to pass his concussion test, the Jaguars figure to lean on Montell Owens again. The seventh-year veteran set career highs with 14 carries and 91 yards against the Jets, including a 32-yard TD run.
Another big game from Owens could help take some of the pressure off former Dolphins quarterback Chad Henne, who makes his return to Miami after signing with Jacksonville in the offseason. The Dolphins never offered him a contract after he spent his first four seasons with the team.
"I'm sure there's going to be emotions once we get there. Obviously I've got to handle those emotions, but at the same time I'm just going to prepare like it's a regular week," Henne said.
"I want to prove that I belong here in Jacksonville, not to anyone in Miami. I had my opportunity there, it is what it is. ... I want to prove to this organization that I can get it done here."
Henne has made three straight starts and continues to audition for next season. While he led Jacksonville to a 24-19 win over Tennessee in Week 12, Henne's completed 47.1 percent of his passes while throwing one TD and three interceptions in his last two games.
The Jaguars and Dolphins have split four previous matchups in the regular season.