Fred Taylor and Jack Del Rio began what promises to be a flavorful week by exchanging playful jabs, as Del Rio's Jaguars and Taylor's New England Patriots prepare for a game of immense importance to both teams.
"Fred has always been a great interview," Del Rio said when asked about Taylor's comments that the Patriots watch more film than the Jaguars. "I saw that and I said that's really great. That's what we're looking to instill in our veteran leaders. Apparently, he wasn't that veteran kind of leader."
Taylor's great career with the Jaguars ended last winter when he was released by the team in a youth movement and allowed to become an unrestricted free agent. Taylor then signed with the Patriots, where he has missed most of the season with a foot injury.
It's unknown if Taylor will see his first action this Sunday since week four. If he does play against the Jaguars, it would only add spice to an already flavorful matchup.
The playoffs are on the line for the Jaguars. This is the must-win of all must-win games. Meanwhile, the Patriots can clinch the AFC East title with a victory, which would conclude a perfect 8-0 season at Gillette Stadium. All this one needs is some snowy New England weather to make for a perfect late-season atmosphere.
"Hopefully, it'll be cold, blustery and snow will be falling. That would be great. I'd welcome that," Del Rio said. "We have a group of mudders. We don't get to see snow down here. I think our guys look forward to that type of thing."
The Jaguars have done well in snowy conditions in the past, as in Pittsburgh in 2007, but they've not won in New England under Del Rio in any conditions. Tom Brady and the Patriots were a snowball in the face for the Jaguars in 2005-'07, knocking the Jags out of the playoffs. In a Christmas Eve game in Jacksonville in '06, Brady led the Patriots to a win that doused the Jags' hopes of making it into the playoffs.
"He's a special guy and they had a special team. I'm sure they knocked a lot of teams out of the playoffs. This is not the same team. I'm not saying they're not capable of doing the same things, but it's not the same team," cornerback Rashean Mathis said. "They don't have the same players. They don't have the same defense and offense they had then."
In the most recent meeting between the two teams, Brady completed 26 of 28 passes to outduel Jags quarterback David Garrard, who might have led the Jags to a win over the then-undefeated Patriots had Dennis Northcutt and Matt Jones not dropped what should've resulted in touchdown passes late in the game.
Neither the Patriots nor the Jaguars are the same team they were then, especially in the Jaguars' case, but the dilemma the Jaguars face is the same: The lack of a pass-rush could force the Jags to play conservatively in the secondary.
Is Brady still capable of picking the Jags apart? That would seem to be the issue heading into this game.
"If you give him time, he can pick you apart. He takes his time and diagnoses the defense. He takes sacks like a man. He takes what you give him. He has a deep threat and if he sees him open, he's gonna take it. Hopefully, we can stop the deep ball again because if you limit the deep balls, you can limit the scoring," Mathis said.
Randy Moss is Brady's deep receiver. Moss came under criticism for a shoddy effort two weeks ago but he rebounded last Sunday in a win over Buffalo.
"They're winning in different ways. They're finding ways to win without blowing teams out. We can't think in terms of we're playing the championship Patriots. If you give a team too much respect, you're going to get your doors blown off," Mathis added.
Del Rio spent a portion of his Tuesday press conference in support of Garrard, who is under heavy fan criticism for failing to engineer fourth-quarter touchdown drives in the last two games, narrow defeats to Miami and Indianapolis.
"Football is the ultimate team game. There are a lot of things that can contribute. He's been able to bring us back three times this season and, if need be, I'd like to see number four this week," Del Rio said of Garrard. "This has been a very tough football player for us. David has done some very good things for this football team. We appreciate the good part and we're working on the part that's not as good as it needs to be."
When told that Garrard leads all quarterbacks in being knocked down, Del Rio said: "Who gets hit more than 'Big Ben?' Ben (Roethlisberger) shakes guys off and throws touchdowns. Some of it is on the line and some of it is on David making quick decisions."
The week has just begun.