It has passed so quickly. All of a sudden, the Jaguars find themselves in their goodbye tour of a division they didn't want in the beginning and now regret having to leave.
Sunday's game in Pittsburgh will be the Jaguars' final encounter with the Steelers as AFC Central counterparts, and there's a twinge of sentimentality in that fact. The Steelers embodied the AFC Central when the Jaguars began play. Pittsburgh was the team the Jaguars aspired to beat, and it was the Steelers who provided the Jaguars their first real rivalry and their first sense of legitimacy.
The AFC Central has been the NFL's division of change since the Jaguars joined the crowd. It is the league's "stadium division." When the Jaguars began play in 1995, the other four stadiums in the division were the Astrodome, Riverfront, Cleveland Municipal and Three Rivers.
They're all gone, replaced by sparkling, new, state-of-the-art complexes that have made Alltel Stadium the oldest stadium in the division. Imagine that. How could the years have passed so quickly?
When the NFL originally announced the Jaguars were being placed in the AFC Central, Wayne Weaver despaired. Weaver wanted his small-market Jaguars to be put into the big-market NFC. He would've preferred Carolina's placement in the NFC West, where the Jaguars would've had a regional foe such as Atlanta, and might've capitalized from an association with the glitzy 49ers. Instead, Weaver's team joined a division of rust-belt teams and aging stadiums.
Seven years later, coach Tom Coughlin is legitimately upset to be leaving the AFC Central. He is intensely proud of the division's strength and especially regrets having to part company with the Steelers. Who could blame him? He has a sentimental attachment to a foe he had targeted and defeated.
Here's "10 things" the Jaguars have to do to beat the Steelers Sunday.
- Stop the pass--You thought I was going to say "stop the run." Actually, it's been Kordell Stewart's ability to create balance with the pass that has changed the landscape of the Steelers offense.
- Stop the run--There you go.
- Hop on 'The Bus'--TV repeatedly shows us a clip from early in the season in which Jerome Bettis runs over a Cincinnati defensive back as though he was a small animal posing for a road-kill documentary. Bettis doesn't run nearly as far with 11 guys on his back. Everybody needs to hop on.
- Be 'The Bus'--A Bettis-like effort from Stacey Mack is an absolute must.
- Pick your spots--For the Jaguars to win, Mark Brunell must be the star, but the Jaguars must pick their spots to attack with their passing game or the Steelers will tee up their blitz on a quarterback who has a sore leg.
- Follow the game plan--The Jaguars have owned the Steelers in recent years, having won five of the last six games. Whatever the plan was, stay with it.
- Kick it high--Acquiring punter Chris Hanson off waivers is the Jaguars' best personnel move of the season. Hanson is third in the AFC in gross average and second in net average, which means he not only kicks them long but he kicks them high, and high is especially good against Hank Poteat, a legitimate punt-return threat.
- Win the battle of the red zone--The Steelers are the league's worst red-zone team. If the Jaguars capitalize on their red-zone opportunities, they'll have a shot.
- Keep an eye on the Hines--Heinz has the slowest ketchup, and Hines Ward isn't the fastest receiver, but he can catch, run, pass and block, and the Jaguars should expect all four this Sunday at Heinz Field.
- Be ready to play--The Steelers have taken exception to Tom Coughlin's remark that the Jaguars were more physical than the Steelers in the week one game between the two teams. We know what that means.