Fresh off what is possibly his most treasured victory as a head coach, Jack Del Rio was asked what his response would be to those who are saying the Jaguars would not have won in Pittsburgh on Sunday had Ben Roethlisberger and Hines Ward played.
"You can play what-if scenarios all day. Who's to say Fred (Taylor) wouldn't have rushed for 234 yards again?" Del Rio said of his star running back, who set the all-time single-game record for rushing yards by a Steelers opponent in 2000. Taylor, of course, did not play in Sunday's 23-17 overtime win over the Steelers, due to a sprained ankle he sustained the previous week against Cincinnati.
Del Rio wore the win with pride when he met with reporters on Monday. It's a win that leaves the Jaguars at 4-2 and firmly in pursuit of an AFC playoff berth. Following this week's bye, the next stop for the Jaguars is St. Louis, and Del Rio said Taylor should be back in the lineup for that game.
"When you're in a game like we were in yesterday, the character is going to really show. If you're a front-runner, it's going to show in an environment like that. That's why we stress having character," Del Rio said.
The Jaguars overcame major adversity in the overtime, after Quincy Morgan returned the kickoff 70 yards to the Jaguars 26-yard line. The defense, however, dug in, just as it had in the Jaguars' overtime win over the Jets in week three.
On third down, Steelers quarterback Tommy Maddox dropped the ball while attempting a hand-off. Reggie Hayward recovered for the Jaguars, averting a potential game-winning field goal attempt by the Steelers.
The next time the Steelers had the ball, cornerback Rashean Mathis stepped up and intercepted a Maddox pass and returned it 41 yards for the game-winning touchdown. Mathis had also intercepted a pass in the overtime against the Jets. It means Mathis is responsible for two of the three turnovers the Jaguars have faced in four overtime defensive stands.
Mathis starred in a dual role. In addition to his game-winning interception, he also blocked a punt that resulted in a field goal near the end of the first half, and he made the game-saving tackle on Morgan's kickoff return.
Del Rio awarded Mathis a game ball for his special teams contributions, then gave the defensive game ball to Paul Spicer and the offensive equivalent to Greg Jones. Spicer, of course, was playing on the heels of his brother's death in Indianapolis late last week. Jones replaced Taylor and rushed for 77 yards on 18 carries.
"He's just going to get better," Del Rio said of Mathis. "When the organization extended (his contract) it was because he's a good, young player we need to have here."
The Jaguars entertain 10 remaining games that include only one team that currently has a winning record; the Colts at 5-0. The combined record of the Jaguars' remaining opponents is 18-35.
Asked if conventional wisdom would suggest the Jaguars are in good shape for a playoff run, Del Rio said: "I don't put a lot of stock into conventional wisdom because conventional wisdom said we couldn't go to Pittsburgh and win.
"We're sitting with a 4-2 record we've earned. What we need to do and what we will do is improve as a football team," he added.