(Nov. 29)--In any previous year, this would've been a game of major AFC Central Division importance; the 6-4-1 Steelers at the 5-6 Jaguars.
But this is the year the Steelers and the Jaguars parted company by heading into all-new divisions. This Sunday's game has separate importance for each team. The Steelers need a win to remain a half-game ahead of the Browns in the AFC North title race. The Jaguars need a win to cling to what little playoff hope they have left following five losses in their last seven games.
So, given each team's desperate circumstances, this Sunday's Steelers-Jaguars renewal should have that old-time feeling. And the Jaguars, who were harshly criticized for their lackadaisical effort in Dallas, should welcome the emotion the Steelers are likely to bring to Alltel Stadium.
"For us, it's a very big game. We're excited about the game. We've played hard against them. They were the benchmark. You're not going to have a chance to win against the Steelers unless you're very physical and very intense," coach Tom Coughlin said in explaining why the Jaguars have traditionally played so well against Pittsburgh.
It was a game on which Coughlin immediately focused in his team's inaugural season. The Steelers were the kings of the AFC Central and Coughlin made beating the Steelers his team's prime objective. And the Jaguars did beat the Steelers, in the teams' first-ever meeting, in a season in which the Steelers would go on to win the AFC title.
Seven years later, the Jaguars hold a 8-6 series edge against Pittsburgh. Even in the Steelers' best seasons, they have not gone a year without losing to the Jaguars. To say the Steelers bring out the best in the Jaguars would be an understatement. Will that happen again this Sunday?
"They want to run the football. I think that's the way you win football games: Run the ball, stop the run. They play the game the way we'd like to play it," Coughlin added.
The Steelers are not at their best as they head into this game, but they are never without their mystique, which always seems to inspire their opponents to play their best. Their opponents know they're in for a long day of bump and grind. Be ready for it. Will the Jaguars?
"These guys are very physical. And they're very quick. Their scheme is very complicated. We have to be at our best," quarterback Mark Brunell said.
So, the Jaguars' motivation is double-edged. The Steelers have always inspired the Jaguars. And the circumstances are desperate. A win will raise the Jaguars' morale and offer hope for a strong finish. A loss could produce a final-month collapse.
"The margin of error is very small. It's about as small as it can get, as far as our playoff chances. We've got to beat the Steelers," Brunell said.
Just like old times.
Vic Ketchman is the Senior Editor of Jaguars Inside Report, the official team newspaper of the Jacksonville Jaguars. One-year subscriptions may be purchased by calling 1-888-846-5247.