The Jaguars can't use the lure of a playoff berth as motivation for the final four games of this season, so coach Jack Del Rio is trying to sell history and tradition to pique his players' interest for this Sunday's game in Chicago. Del Rio has also issued this stern warning: "Don't have me come over there and pry you off the heater."
Temperatures are forecast for the mid-20's on Sunday at Soldier Field. Wind and snow might also join the Jaguars and Bears in a game of critical importance to the home team, which it no doubt must win to remain a game behind the NFC North-leading Minnesota Vikings, who play at Detroit. Get it?
"It'll be cold, it'll be great; great football weather," Del Rio said. "I'm excited about this opportunity to take on the Bears. We get another month of football, another month to be together."
Some might think Del Rio was being sarcastic in selecting those words. Excited to play a game in frigid temperatures? A 4-8 team headed only toward a merciful conclusion to a disappointing season?
Hey, the show must go on and teams must find motivation wherever they can find it. Del Rio is respectful of NFL history and the Bears' storied part in it, and the Jaguars coach is also making sure his players understand the importance of Sunday's game in the NFL playoffs race.
"We're involved in games that are very important. We're in that spoiler mode. We can play that spoiler role. Let's play for the love of the game," Del Rio told reporters on Wednesday.
This has been another difficult week of dealing with fan and media criticism. The Jaguars got their share of each following a 30-17 loss in Houston on Monday night. The ESPN Monday night broadcast crew savaged the Jaguars and the team's fans have likewise been harsh.
"The media's job is to hype the story, make prognostications. A large percentage of those are not accurate," Del Rio said when asked if he resents the build-'em-up, tear-'em-down function of the media. "When it doesn't play out the way you want, you're going to go after the people that didn't get it done and you're going to heap a bunch of praise on the ones that did. That's just part of the process. I don't think you can take it personal. That's part of the game that makes the game popular."
High expectations won't be a problem for the Jaguars next season. That may be the sole achievement of this season, unless the team can get on a late-season roll and fight its way back to .500.
"This has been a good football team in the six years I've been here," Del Rio said. "This has been a rough year. We all understand that.
"I feel like I have a good handle on where we are right now. There's not a lot I'm going to share with you all and make public. There's not a lot to discuss right now. This Sunday's opportunity in Chicago is the story. To me, that's the story this week," Del Rio added.
The first chapter of this week's story features the loss of cornerback Rashean Mathis for the remainder of this season. Mathis sustained a knee injury in Houston and was to be placed on the injured reserve list. Del Rio said the injury is to Mathis' medial collateral ligament and it will not require surgery.
Chapter two: Del Rio's appreciation of history.
"I've always taken pride in going to Soldier Field. I appreciate the men that came before us and made this league great. I think (players) should have a sense of that," Del Rio said. "There are some stadiums where you can feel the tradition."
What Jaguars fans are starting to feel is a sense of what has to happen during the offseason for the Jaguars to get back to the playoffs. Del Rio sounded as though he has a feel for that, too, but any comment he'll make along those lines will have to be delayed a month.
"There's going to be a very clear vision for this football team. We're going to be a good football team. We just had a rough season. The future will take care of itself. We're going to take care of this week," Del Rio said.