It's win-and-in time for the Jaguars, who can secure a return to the playoffs with a win over the Oakland Raiders this Sunday at Jacksonville Municipal Stadium.
"We want to continue to play our best football down the stretch," coach Jack Del Rio said following a 29-22 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field that was, in many ways, the Jaguars' best football of the season.
They ran the ball for 224 yards against what was one of the best run-defenses in the league. The colder and windier and snowier it got, the more the Jaguars ran the ball down the Steelers' throats.
Fred Taylor scored the game-clincher, a 12-yard burst up the middle with 1:57 left to play, canceling a Steelers' rally from a 22-7 deficit to a 22-22 tie with 5:46 to play.
All of a sudden and for the first time in the day, with the score tied, the situation looked bleak for the Jaguars. They were at their 27-yard line and the crowd and the wind were howling. There was a sense of disaster about to happen.
Quarterback David Garrard started the drive with a 20-yard completion to Marcedes Lewis. It would be Garrard's last completion of the game; he didn't need another one.
Taylor gained nine yards and then 13. Maurice Jones-Drew converted a third-and-11 with a 20-yard burst up the middle on a draw play, and then Taylor followed with two 12-yard runs.
"That's what we thrive on. There's nothing pretty about it. It's just football," Taylor said of the running game.
"He ran hard; very decisive. He's really excited about this football team and what we can accomplish," Del Rio said of Taylor. "We needed it and we got it. We saw the way Fred was running and wanted to feed him the football," he added of the final drive.
The Jaguars appeared to be in the process of blowing out the Steelers when Garrard threw high and over the head of Greg Jones. The pass was intercepted by safety Anthony Smith and returned to the Jaguars 12-yard line.
Ben Roethlisberger followed with an 11-yard touchdown pass to Hines Ward, then moved the Steelers 84 yards in eight plays in their next possession, hitting Nate Washington with a 30-yard score. The Steelers then tied the game on a two-point conversion pass from wide receiver Cedrick Wilson to wide receiver Santonio Holmes.
What happened, Del Rio was asked?
"Playing football and gave them a chance to make a play and made a play and punched it in, made some more plays and caught us. Obviously, we had control but we understand it's a four-quarter ballgame," Del Rio said.
The Jaguars' game-winning drive was, yet, another example of Garrard's development into one of the top quarterbacks in the league.
"How many times have we seen that this year?" Del Rio asked of Garrard answering an opponent's score with a score.
Garrard completed 17 of 33 passes for 197 yards, three touchdowns, one interception and an 87.6 passer rating. He had come perilously close to being intercepted several times in the game.
"As the weather turns cold, being able to run the football was a big plus for us. We know we'll have to be able to play in this weather to be able to advance in the AFC (playoffs)," Del Rio said. "We know we can have success and play with anybody. I think they're hungry for more."
At 10-4, the Jaguars remain the leader in the AFC wild-card race. It appears the Jaguars are headed for the number five playoff spot, which could send them back to Pittsburgh or to Cleveland, depending on which team wins the AFC North, or San Diego.
"Nobody went out there complaining about the weather," defensive end Paul Spicer said.
Spicer had one of the Jaguars' five sacks of Roethlisberger. Brent Hawkins had two and John Henderson one.
Back to Pittsburgh?
"That wouldn't bother us. We need to just keep playing good football," Jones-Drew said. "We're built for whatever it takes to win."
The Jaguars committed to a physical game and they clearly won the battle of the hitting.
"Like Jack said earlier in the week, bring two chinstraps," wide receiver Ernest Wilford said.
"It was a sloppy day. That's how it's going to be in the playoffs," Garrard said.
Pittsburgh will win the AFC North if they win their final two games. They play at St. Louis on Thursday and then at Baltimore. Cleveland is tied with the Steelers in the standings but would have to finish a game ahead of the Steelers to win the division because the Steelers own the tiebreaker.