Senior writer John Oehser’s “oral history” of 25 memorable games in Jaguars history continues with this look at a 34-24 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2000 – a game in which Jaguars running back Fred Taylor set a franchise rushing record that still stands
Date: November 19, 2000.
Records entering game: Jaguars 3-7, Steelers 5-5.
Site: Three Rivers Stadium; Pittsburgh, Pa.
What happened: Fred Taylor, then a third-year veteran, used this mid-November Sunday Night Football game to turn in perhaps the most memorable performance of his 12-year career in a 34-24 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers. Taylor, in the middle of a remarkable nine-game stretch in which he rushed for more than 100 yards in every game, rushed for 234 yards and three touchdowns on 30 carries – setting a record for yards in a game against the Pittsburgh Steelers and the most yards ever by an opponent in Three Rivers Stadium. The Steelers took a 7-0 lead on a 32-yard pass from quarterback Kordell Stewart to wide receiver Hines Ward. But Taylor dominated the game after that and his second-quarter touchdown run of 25 yards and a 16-yard touchdown reception from quarterback Mark Brunell gave the Jaguars a 17-10 halftime lead. Taylor scored on runs of 2 and 26 yards in the third quarter to push the lead to 34-10 entering the fourth quarter before Stewart rushed for touchdowns of 2 and 34 yards to make the score closer. It was Taylor’s fifth consecutive 100-yard game; he finished the season with 1,399 yards and 12 touchdowns on 292 carries in 13 games.
Jaguars leading passer: Brunell (17-31, 190 yards, one touchdown, one interception).
Jaguars leading rusher: Taylor (30 carries, 234 yards, three touchdowns).
Jaguars leading receivers: Jimmy Smith (six receptions, 85 yards), Taylor (three receptions, 14 yards, one touchdown).
Steelers leading passer: Stewart (13-27, 188 yards, one touchdown, two interceptions).
Steelers leading rusher: Jerome Bettis (12 carries, 57 yards), Autrey Denson (six carries, 10 yards).
Steelers leading receiver: Bobby Shaw (five receptions, 81 yards), Hines Ward (three receptions, 60 yards, one touchdown).
This victory over the Steelers came during a difficult 2000 season that marked a quick end to the prime early years of the franchise. After a 14-2 season in 1999, the Jaguars stumbled to 7-9.
Boselli: “That season was one of the most disappointing seasons of football I ever had because I thought we underperformed. I thought we were a good football team. We weren’t the best team in the NFL, but there was no reason we shouldn’t have been 10-6, 11-5. We scored 36 on the best defense ever [a Week 2 loss to the Baltimore Ravens]. We should have been worst-case 10-6. I always think we should have been in the playoffs. We lost an opportunity. We had really good players and Fred was one of them.”
This game also marked another milestone for the Jaguars. It was the last time they would play the Steelers in Three Rivers Stadium. The Steelers would move into Heinz Field the following season.
Jaguars center Brad Meester: “I grew up a Steelers fan, for whatever reason. I loved watching the Steelers. That was the last year of Three Rivers. It was just cool being there … with the old lockers and the dingy locker room. I kept thinking about all the people who had played there and all the history that was there … it was memorable for me before it even started. Then, to rush the ball like we did was unbelievable.”
The bright spot in that season was Taylor, who – after missing the first three games of the season with a knee injury and rushing for 135 yards in three games after that – rushed for 1,264 yards and 11 touchdowns in the final 10 games of the season.
Brunell: “He was amazing. I don’t think there was anything he didn’t have. I don’t think people realize how tough he was, how physical he was. He was a tackle-to-tackle guy, a downhill physical guy … but he had that ability … gone. He could run through somebody and he could make somebody miss. He could catch. He was smart at protections. From my perspective, there was nothing he couldn’t do. He was just a kid out there playing. He had the respect of his teammates. He wasn’t a big talker. He worked hard. What I loved about Fred was that sucker could spend all week in the training room with ice and all this stuff and (snaps fingers) … there he is on Sunday. He would take a beating and go out there and compete. I wish I had appreciated Fred more when I was playing with him. He was so reliable and so damned good. To me, he’s a Hall of Famer.”
Boselli: “I think Fred Taylor’s the most talented football player I ever played with. What he was able to do was just amazing. If Fred Taylor played in this era of spread football … he was a freak.”
Linebacker Kevin Hardy: “The thing that made Fred so good is when he did those jump cuts, when he would take off, he took off so fast – before you even understand where he was. We saw it first-hand in practice nearly every day. When you watched him from the sideline, it was amazing. People ask me a lot, ‘Who was the best running back you played against?’ I played against a lot of good ones. I never played against Fred outside of practice, but Fred was the best running back I played against because of how special he was. I don’t think he’ll ever get the credit I think he deserves. He was really a special talent.”
The first quarter against Pittsburgh showed few signs that Taylor was in for a historical night. Taylor rushed for 14 yards in the first quarter, then scored on a 16-yard reception and a 25-yard run in the second quarter.
Brunell: “I don’t remember which quarter it was, but I remember thinking, ‘Damn, Fred’s having a good day.’ That was one of those special days.”
Taylor rushed for 75 yards in the second quarter, then 67 more in the third quarter, then 78 more in the fourth quarter. It was a dominant performance with Taylor routinely outrushing Steelers defensive backs and linebackers to the edge.
Taylor: “They showed they could not stop the stretch zone, whether we were keeping it front door or cutting it back. They lost their discipline. We had a couple of screen plays in there that ended up, with the blocking, being nice touchdowns. I didn’t know it was going to be a special day. The game just turned into one of those nights.”
Boselli: “We blocked well, but I’ll be honest with you: there were some plays that he cut back that had nothing to do with where we were blocking. Fred saw it and just made things happen. He was just remarkable. Athletically, I think Fred Taylor was one of the most underrated players of the era I played. He was that good. And he got better. When he was healthy, he was crazy good.”
Meester: “Fred had a heyday that day and ran crazy. That was cool.”
How good was Taylor against the Steelers? Good enough that Smith and McCardell for once didn’t mind not being utilized much.
Wide receiver Jimmy Smith: “That was one of the games where I really wasn’t concerned about catching any balls. I was so amazed with Fred’s performance that game. It turned into, ‘Let me get somewhere and make a block for this guy.’ That was one game where I was all about, ‘Give it to Fred, give it to Fred.’ I don’t remember Keenan complaining about balls that night, either. We complained about balls often; we just didn’t throw tantrums. That was one game when the play came in where I was thinking, ‘I hope it’s to Fred. I’ve got my guy and Keenan’s got his guy. We’re going to make the block and Fred’s going to do damage.’ He was able to have a career game that game.”
McCardell: “It was like, ‘He’s on fire. Let him go.’ He was punishing people. It was fun. It was like, ‘You’re still coming up here for some more?’ It’s great to see when a back just takes over. It’s a special thing.”