JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Maurice Jones-Drew looks at Oakland's Darren McFadden and sees a running back who has the total package - that rare combination of size and speed that makes other elite running backs in the NFL take notice.
McFadden loves watching Jones-Drew run the ball for the Jacksonville Jaguars, praising his tenacity that allows him to get yards out of the toughest of situations.
Jones-Drew and McFadden are widely considered among the best running backs in the NFL going into Sunday's game between the Jaguars (1-4) and Raiders (1-4). They have something else in common that is much less enviable: they have been unable to turn their teams into winners.
"It gets frustrating because you work so hard throughout the week and throughout the offseason to get into your best shape," Jones-Drew said. "At the end of the day we just want to go out there and win some games. Every loss is frustrating. But at the same time I wouldn't want anything to come easy to me or to us. We have to fight for it. When you fight for things you earn it and that happiness is much more than when you're given certain things."
Jones-Drew has made the playoffs just once in his seven-year career, coming as Fred Taylor's backup in 2007. Since taking over the starting job in 2009, the Jaguars have failed to post a winning record even though he led the NFL in rushing during that period.
A slow start this season indicates possibly another year of disappointment.
"I'm always optimistic. You never know," Jones-Drew said. "I think everybody's mood is a sense of urgency. We dug ourselves a hole and the only way to get out is to take it one play at a time. We can't really dwell on what happened the last couple of weeks. We had some games that we felt we were leading and got out of control."
McFadden came into the league as a heralded college player picked fourth overall in 2008 and has shown the ability to be a game-breaking back when healthy. But the Raiders have yet to post a winning season despite his presence.
He has struggled a bit this season adjusting to a new blocking system, averaging just 3.2 yards per carry, but feels poised for a breakout.
"I feel like we're getting there," McFadden said. "We still have some things that we need to clean up. It wasn't a good average but overall I felt like we ran the ball pretty good. I feel like our running game is getting to where it needs to be."
The Raiders, despite losing 23-20 last week at undefeated Atlanta, are perhaps coming off their best game of the season. The running game provided more consistency even if McFadden was unable to break any long runs, the passing game was sharp despite two costly turnovers by Carson Palmer and the defense intercepted three passes and shut down Atlanta's running game.
But the result was all too familiar as the Falcons drove to the winning field goal with 1 second left to send the Raiders to another loss.
"We weren't satisfied in any way, we weren't happy in any way," Palmer said. "We wanted to win the game and we didn't. You got to continue to work, you got to continue to grind and just believe in each other, believe in the game plan, believe in the coaching. You look at a game film, you improve from it. That's really all you can do. We're not going to sit back and be happy about statistics. We're going to sit back and figure out why we didn't win, look at ways we can get better and try to improve."
The Jaguars see the improvement the Raiders showed after a bye week and hope they can replicate that. First-year coach Mike Mularkey said he saw a more physical Raiders team that executed well and tweaked the game plan a bit to better take advantage of the team's strengths.
Jacksonville did little right in its last game before the bye, losing 41-3 at home to Chicago. Second-year quarterback Blaine Gabbert threw two interceptions that were returned for touchdowns and the Jaguars were outgained 501-189.
That is one of three lopsided losses for the Jaguars, who lost by 17 points the previous week to Cincinnati and by 20 in Week 2 against Houston.
"We're closer than a lot of outsiders believe we are," Mularkey said. "We just have not put a real complete game together in any phase of the football team right now. But we have shown that we are capable of doing that in all three phases. We're just very inconsistent. We just can't seem to make the plays that other teams are making right across the field from us in the same games."
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