When the Jaguars take the field for the start of this Sunday's game in Oakland, their spirits could be buoyed by a Pittsburgh win over Buffalo. Jack Del Rio wants to make sure a Pittsburgh loss won't leave his team crushed.
"I naturally assume it would give you a little bit of a boost," Del Rio said of a Buffalo loss, which is one-third of what needs to happen this Sunday for the Jaguars to make it into the AFC playoffs as a wild card. "The approach you must take is let's play a good game of football and come home with a smile on our face."
Pittsburgh and Buffalo will play at one p.m. this Sunday. The Jaguars kickoff in Oakland at 4:05 p.m. and the Indianapolis at Denver kickoff will be right behind at 4:15 p.m. Wins by Pittsburgh, Indianapolis and the Jaguars would put Del Rio's team in the playoffs. Any other combination would result in a fifth consecutive non-playoffs season for the Jaguars.
On a normal weekend, the Jaguars would have every reason to believe the 14-1 Steelers and 12-3 Colts would win their games, but this won't be a normal weekend. Pittsburgh has clinched the number one seed in the AFC playoffs and Indianapolis has clinched the number three seed. Both teams are expected to rest starters and Pittsburgh may really take that to the max. Ben Roethlisberger, Duce Staley, Jerome Bettis and DeShea Townsend will not play for the Steelers, and other starters, such as Hines Ward and Plaxico Burress, are expected to see very limited action, if any at all.
Steelers coach Bill Cowher has said his team will be all-out to win in Buffalo, but that would seem to be more coachspeak than practical truth. Is that fair to teams in the playoff chase, such as the Jaguars, Jets, Broncos and Ravens?
"I appreciate the fact they're able to do that," Del Rio said of the Steelers' and Colts' potential for resting players. "They earned that right and they can do as they see fit. We control our performance and then we hope. That's where we are. That's what we've earned."
At 8-7, the Jaguars have earned the right to be a playoff contender on the final Sunday of the season. A year ago, in Del Rio's rookie season as coach, the Jaguars got off to a 1-7 start and were out of playoff contention before Halloween.
This has been a season of rejuvenation for the Jaguars. They are back among the living. They are a young team on the rise. They are one win away from posting the franchise's first winning year since 1999.
So why does everything feel so bad this week?
The answer to that question is very simple. In their most important game in five years, the Jaguars came up 21-0 losers this past Sunday. The playoffs were on the line. Had they beaten the visiting Texans, the Jaguars would be facing a win-and-in game this Sunday in Oakland.
"You'd be happy for the moment," quarterback Byron Leftwich said of what a win in Oakland would do for the Jaguars' state of mind, "but if you don't make the playoffs, it's going to be tough the following week watching those other guys play. All you can do is learn from it."
Del Rio is challenging his team to play for the most basic of reasons: Because they love to play football.
"Let's go play. Let's go enjoy what we do for a living. You have to love what we do. We must turn that focus to the fun of competing. Ending on a winning note is something I want," Del Rio said.
For the Jaguars to finish with a win, they will certainly have to improve their offensive performance. Del Rio addressed the question of his offense's overall performance this season; the Jaguars are 20th in the league overall, 16th in rushing and 19th in passing.
"I'm disappointed that we haven't been able to generate offensively what I've wanted to generate. Let's just leave it at that," Del Rio said.
The Jaguars hope to have star running back Fred Taylor in the lineup in Oakland. Taylor missed Sunday's game against Houston due to a sprained knee. He is listed as "questionable" on the Jaguars injury report.
Safety Deon Grant is "questionable" with a knee, cornerback Juran Bolden is "questionable" with a quadricep, and safety Donovin Darius (ankle), Leftwich (concussion), defensive tackle Marcus Stroud (knee) and cornerback Dewayne Washington (groin) are "probable."
Taylor and Stroud did not practice on Wednesday. Leftwich was full speed at practice and reported no lingering effects from or special treatment for the head injury he sustained against Houston.