Buoyed by the closeness of the AFC Central Division standings, and by a bye-week of rest since his team's loss in Seattle two Sundays ago, Jaguars coach Tom Coughlin was full of enthusiasm when he met with the media today. Not even the almost-certain prospect of the Jaguars' second consecutive TV blackout could dampen his mood.
"I just think it's a great time to be in the league," Coughlin observed, referring to the fact that only one game separates the top five teams in the AFC Central standings.
Pittsburgh leads the division with a 3-1 record. Jacksonville will join Baltimore, Cincinnati and Cleveland at 3-2, if the Jaguars beat visiting Buffalo this Thursday night. Tennessee, fresh off an overtime win over Tampa Bay, is in last place at 1-3.
"I think there's a lot of balance in the league. I think there are some really good teams. That's why preparation is so important, and every game is critical," Coughlin said.
Thursday's game will end a favorable opening stretch of schedule for the Jaguars. After the Buffalo game, the Jaguars will travel to Baltimore and to Tennessee, then host Cincinnati before traveling to Pittsburgh to conclude a four-game stretch of schedule that will probably determine whether or not the Jaguars will contend for the AFC Central title this season.
The schedule ahead makes Thursday's game a must-win for the Jaguars. However, nearly 6,000 tickets remained unsold as of this afternoon, as Jacksonville closed on an 8 p.m. blackout deadline this evening.
"Just write this down one time," Coughlin instructed a reporter who asked about the probability of a TV blackout. "We need our fans here. We'd like to think everyone in Jacksonville feels the say way. We look forward to that. The full support is lacking, to an extent, but it doesn't have anything to do with the way we play."
Coughlin used Sunday's results and the crowded AFC Central picture to motivate his team for Thursday's game. Pittsburgh is one of only two teams in the AFC with only one loss, and Coughlin pointed out that it was the Jaguars who gave the Steelers that loss in the season-opener. Oakland, 4-1, has the best record in the AFC.
"I think we're a good team. We'll see how good we are," Coughlin said.
What does he expect from his team this week?
"Prepare well, bring your heart to the game and play your tail off," he said.
The Jaguars were roundly criticized for having played with a lack of emotion in Seattle two weeks ago. Clearly, Coughlin had heard enough about his team's lack of intensity.
"Emotion, emotion, emotion; go play," he said.
Apparently, the Jaguars will play in front of something considerably less than a full house Thursday night.