Fred Taylor will get his first taste of Heinz Field on Sunday, and it's expected to be in the most challenging weather conditions of the season. Snow, wind, cold and a suspect playing field are conditions the Jaguars and Steelers will have to overcome in a game of critical importance to both teams.
"We've never shied away from the cold," Taylor said on Wednesday, as he wore a stocking cap pulled down over his ears, even though the temperature in Jacksonville on Wednesday was expected to push 80 degrees.
Taylor is a Florida guy all the way. He's from South Florida and played at the University of Florida, yet, his biggest game as a pro was in Pittsburgh in November of 2000 and Taylor has rushed for 768 yards in nine games against the Steelers.
Why has he been successful?
"I'm not 100 percent sure but when you play a team like Pittsburgh with the history and tradition, some games you feel a little more energized and focused. The more they talk the more inspired I become," Taylor said.
All of Taylor's rushing yardage in Pittsburgh was in Three Rivers Stadium. The Jaguars have played at Heinz Field twice – 2001 and '05 – but Taylor missed both games with injuries.
He knows all about the now-infamous field conditions in the recent Dolphins-Steelers game, but he made it sound on Wednesday as though he's looking forward to them.
"It's going to be cold and the field will be matted down. It'll be a little better. It'll kind of be like your childhood. Most of the time you played on dirt," Taylor said.
A win would put the Jaguars on the verge of clinching a playoff berth. The Steelers will clinch a playoff berth with a win. It's a game that could be replayed three weeks from now at Heinz Field, again, in the wild-card round of the playoffs.
"Two 9-4 teams, both fighting for a playoff spot and positioning. The weather is supposed to be great for football," Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio said on Wednesday.
Del Rio announced that defensive tackle Marcus Stroud has been placed on the injured reserve list, effectively ending his season. Stroud sustained a significant ankle sprain in the Jaguars' win over the Carolina Panthers this past Sunday.
"It's going to be six-plus weeks (of recovery), so we're not going to get him back. It's a shame to lose him," Del Rio said of Stroud, who was replaced on the roster by linebacker Shantee Orr, a fifth-year player who began this year with the Houston Texans.
"Rob Meier is going to play more," Del Rio said of filling the void created by Stroud's injury. The Jaguars had, of course, been without Stroud for the four games previous to last Sunday. "We continue with our quest. No one is going to spot you seven. We'll go compete," Del Rio added.
Jaguars quarterback David Garrard will be playing at Heinz Field for the first time in his career, too, and he'll be in a head-to-head confrontation with Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, in a showdown for the distinction of third-best quarterback in the AFC.
"I've played in cold-weather games. It's going to be tough for both teams. Both teams are built the same way. It's going to be a slugfest," Garrard said.
As Garrard was being interviewed by reporters, Taylor stopped to thank Garrard for the gift of a four-night stay at a Jacksonville resort hotel. Garrard told reporters he presented the "whole offense" with the same.
"I thought it was something I could do to show them how much I appreciate what they do for me," Garrard said. "I'm just so happy to be even mentioned for it," he added of the Pro-Bowl voting. "I knew this season was going to be different. I knew it was destined."