NASHVILLE—Jack Del Rio called it a big, big win. Oh, really, coach? Hey, let me tell you how big it really is: It's the biggest win of your coaching career.
Doubt me? Don't.
The Jaguars' win over the Titans at LP Field on Sunday, coupled with Pittsburgh's win over Cleveland, leaves the Jaguars tied with the Titans for the number one spot in the wild-card race. At 6-3, the Jaguars are a game ahead of Cleveland and Buffalo and two ahead of a host of other teams.
This is the biggest win in Del Rio's career as Jaguars coach not only because of where it put the Jaguars in the playoffs race, but also because it threw water on the wolves that were starting to howl at the front door. You know about those wolves; the ones who were snarling at the team's off-the-field struggles and predicting another late-season collapse that would leave the Jaguars out of the playoffs for a second consecutive year.
Any howls in Jacksonville today are weak and without bite because there isn't a sane dog in town who wouldn't agree that Del Rio pulled off one of the great coaching performances in Jaguars history last week. He rallied his team against great odds and divisive forces. He sold them on the concept of commitment and purpose and those are the things of which late-season success is made.
"We talked about the need to be committed to our purpose and remain unified. It's a nice start to the second half of our season," Del Rio said of the win.
It would be easy for Del Rio to get lost in Sunday's win. He was clearly overshadowed by Fred Taylor's milestone accomplishment. What Del Rio and his coaching staff did last week to hold this team together, however, is worthy of high praise.
"The guys really focused in this week. I thought they pulled together," Del Rio said,
So, on the same field on which the Jaguars' collapse began a year ago, what they hope will be a charge into the playoffs this season began on Sunday. What will it take to close the deal, Del Rio was asked?
"What you have to do is continue to win games," he said, and for the Jaguars that will be a difficult task because they might have the most difficult finishing schedule in the league.
Just ahead is a visit from the San Diego Chargers. A week later, the Jaguars will have a chance to put a fork in the Bills' hopes. Beyond that are games in Indianapolis and Pittsburgh.
Looks difficult, doesn't it? Yeah, now think of what it would look like had the Jaguars lost in Tennessee on Sunday. See what I mean?
Coaches love to tell you the next game is the most important game of the year, but they won't admit to a must-win game until, well, it's win or else. Sunday's game in Tennessee didn't carry with it an elimination circumstance, but was there anyone who didn't know that it was a must-win game? You just can't keep losing division games, conference games, and not lose ground in the playoffs race.
"You have to take care of these AFC teams," defensive end Paul Spicer said, looking ahead to San Diego and Buffalo, the opponents in the Jaguars' next two home games. "We have to continue to stop the run and run the ball. We have to continue to be efficient and our special teams need to make teams go 80 yards. To go to the next level, we have to continue to do what we did today. If we do that, we'll like where we are at the end of the season."
Frankly, they should like where they are right now. That's what Sunday's win in Tennessee was worth.