The Jaguars' fate rests on the courage of the team's walking wounded. Chief among those is middle linebacker Mike Peterson, the heart and soul of the team's sixth-ranked defense.
Peterson is wearing a cast over his right hand and forearm this week, after having injured his wrist tackling Tennessee quarterback Matt Mauck this past Sunday. Coach Jack Del Rio said Peterson's wrist isn't broken but Del Rio admitted there was a problem and Peterson didn't deny the pain with which he will have to play this Saturday in New England.
"I'm ready to roll. I'm going to be out there," Peterson said. "Pain is a mental thing. I know my wrist is going to hurt. The mental part is what you have to overcome."
It's called playing hurt and it's what good football players have to do, especially at this time of the season. Following a 16-game regular season, who isn't injured in some way? The Jaguars have seven guys on their injury report this week; the Patriots have 13.
Peterson is listed as "questionable," along with defensive ends Paul Spicer and Reggie Hayward. Spicer sustained a broken left hand two weeks ago, saw a specialist last week and may be the most likely of the three to not play. Hayward is nursing a tender hamstring.
Then there are the "probable" players. Byron Leftwich is "probable" coming off a broken ankle, but Leftwich is also dealing with the pain of a high-ankle sprain on his mended left ankle. The high-ankle sprain is a byproduct of the injury that resulted in the broken ankle.
Running back Greg Jones is "probable" with a neck injury. Jones sustained a "burner" three weeks ago against the 49ers. The Jaguars desperately need Jones in short-yardage situations this Saturday.
Starting cornerback Kenny Wright is "probable" with a knee sprain that caused him to be assisted from the field this past Sunday. Wright's availability is critical.
Then there's star cornerback Rashean Mathis, who doesn't appear on the injury report but continues to play with a broken finger.
"A lot of people can't deal with pain. It's hurting me now as I'm talking to you so I know it's going to hurt on Saturday," Peterson said. "A lot of people don't know the extent. A lot of people know Fred Taylor is banged up but they don't know the extent. They know Rashean Mathis is banged up but they don't know the extent."
Taylor has spent nearly all season recovering from injuries. When the season began, his recovery from offseason knee surgery was the main topic of concern. Since midseason, however, the subject has been a nagging ankle sprain.
Now, maybe for the first time this season, Taylor has a bounce in his step. He was at his best in rushing for 101 yards against the Texans two weeks ago and was given the day off this past Sunday. Taylor appears to be healthy and rested and that could be the Jaguars' hole card for the playoffs.
"I'd like to be the hot back," Taylor said.
Six years ago, that's exactly what he was. In the 1999 playoffs, Taylor rushed for 135 yards, including a 90-yard touchdown run, in the Jaguars' 62-7, first-round win over the Dolphins. In the AFC title game the following week, he was gashing the Titans when, mysteriously, the Jaguars stopped running the ball.
"It eats me up. I don't know if it was the game situation because things changed so quickly, but as a runner I thought I was going to get more opportunities in the second half. That didn't happen," Taylor said.
In the eighth year of his career, Taylor is beginning to run out of playoff opportunities. He wants to get hot in these playoffs and finish what he couldn't six years ago.
"You want that to be the plan. They have a physical front seven and that'll be a challenge," Taylor said of the Patriots.