JACKSONVILLE – The message was clear and important.
After not playing this past Sunday, and with one game remaining before the 2023 bye week, Jaguars Head Coach Doug Pederson made clear on Wednesday the need for focus entering a road game against a team also in the postseason chase.
"That was my message this morning, that we have to get right back on it," he said late Wednesday morning as the AFC South-leading Jaguars (5-2) prepared to play the Pittsburgh Steelers (4-2) at Acrisure Stadium in Pittsburgh, Pa., Sunday at 1 p.m.
The Jaguars, after a 1-2 start, have won four consecutive games. They beat the New Orleans Saints, 31-24, last Thursday with Sunday's game in Pittsburgh their last before a Week 9 bye.
This is essentially the Jaguars' first "normal" week in a month, with the team winning back-to-back games in London in Weeks 4 (Atlanta Falcons) and 5 (Buffalo Bills), readjusting to East Coast time before beating the Indianapolis Colts in Jacksonville in Week 6 then beating the Saints on a short preparation week.
"This is a very mature team that we have," Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence said. "We understand what's at stake this week and every week moving forward. Every game is critical, especially playing a team like Pittsburgh. That's a good team.
"You understand it's a big game every week, but you definitely have to get kind of back in the groove this week after having a couple days off. You have to have some sense of urgency. You have to get back going, make sure your mind's right and that you're ready to go play a physical four-quarter game on Sunday.
"That's everything we expect. We're going to get there by Sunday. "
The Jaguars at 5-2 have the same record as the AFC East-leading Miami Dolphins and the AFC North-leading Baltimore Ravens. All three teams are a game behind AFC West-leading Kansas City Chiefs, with the defending Super Bowl champions currently having the AFC's best record at 6-1.
The Jaguars lead the AFC South by a game and a half over the Houston Texans (3-3).
"That's the kind of thing you sort of have to stay focused on this time of year," Jaguars tight end Evan Engram said. "I'm definitely not trying to record watch or keep tabs on that, but it's the next opportunity and the next chance to win.
"You get to the middle of the season, that's when teams kind of start to fall off and separate themselves. So we look at it as an opportunity to really start separating ourselves. As we do that, the chips will fall where they need to be for letting into the postseason conversation and seeding and all that stuff.
"We just have to keep doing what we've been doing and finding ways to do it better."
Lawrence, who against the Saints played through a knee injury sustained four days earlier against the Colts, said Wednesday the injured knee "feels good." Lawrence, after practicing limited twice last week, practiced limited on Wednesday.
"I'm continuing to progress and head in the right direction," said Lawrence, who completed 20 of 29 passes for 204 yards and one touchdown with no interceptions against the Saints while running for 59 yards on eight carries.
"Everything's getting better every day. With something like this, it's not overnight. I understand that, too. I feel really good. I'm happy with where I'm at and just trying to be smart and keep getting it healthy and not take a step back.
"I'm going to be smart and see how it feels and each day make a decision on how much I do – along with the training staff and coaches."
Lawrence also said he likely will wear the protective brace he wore against the Saints "a little bit longer."
"It still is a little uncomfortable," Lawrence said. "You're not used to it, but it didn't feel too bad. I don't think it hindered my ability to move too much. It felt pretty good, so it went well. You'll see it again this week."
- Wide receiver Zay Jones, who has missed the last two games with a knee injury, was the lone Jaguars player not practicing Wednesday. Left guard Walker Little and cornerback Tyson Campbell practiced on a limited basis Wednesday, with Little having missed the last two games with a knee injury and Campbell missing the victory over the Saints with a hamstring injury. Safety Andre Cisco practiced limited with a hamstring injury after leaving the Saints game in the second half. Cornerback Gregory Junior (hamstring), whose window to return from injured reserve is open, practiced full – as did defensive tackle DaVon Hamilton (back), whose window to return from injured reserve also is open. Right guard Brandon Scherff practiced limited after playing through an ankle injury against the Saints.