(Rick Stewart/Getty Images)
On Saturday evening, the Jaguars accomplished the near impossible by defeating the Pittsburgh Steelers for the second time in Pittsburgh, in the same season.
Jacksonville entered the game as two and a half point favorites against a team that was missing their franchise running back, best defensive end, and left tackle. Jacksonville was not without their own problems, as they went into the game without a starting offensive lineman, their best linebacker, and strong safety, as well as losing two-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle John Henderson early on. The Jaguars backups did a slightly better job than the Steelers backups, and the final result was a thrilling 31-29 victory. Jaguars head coach Jack Del Rio commented about the reserves-
"As we have had all year, we had guys step up. We lose John Henderson early in the game, a guy like Derek Landri steps up and ends up getting a hat trick. He gets a sack, an interception, and recovered a fumble at the end of the game. Just a great example of the way we've had guys all year - step up, step in, play well and help us win, and I'm really for him and happy for our team."
There are no style points in the NFL, and there is no BCS power poll, especially when it comes to the playoffs. A one-point victory is every bit as effective as a 40-point blowout. That being said, the Jaguars played a sloppy game last Saturday, and if they are going to have a chance to "really do the impossible" against the only team to ever finish a 16-game regular season undefeated, they must step up their play in a few key areas.
First time starting quarterbacks in the playoffs since 2003 had a collective record of 2-13 prior to this past weekend. Jaguars quarterback David Garrard bucked that trend as he won his first playoff start, but he clearly played his worst game of the season. Garrard completed just 9 of 21 passes for 140 yards with one touchdown pass and two interceptions that were just horrible throws. Garrard had gone the entire season with single game passer ratings of better than 80, and registered just a 41.9 rating on Saturday night. For much of the game, Garrard appeared to be incomposed, and a similar effort next Saturday will surely result in a blowout loss for the Jaguars. Jack Del Rio commented on the play of his quarterback-
"David had a rough stretch there at the end of the third, beginning of the fourth quarter where he has a couple turnovers and they get back in the game. Those things happen, but we feel good about David. I think he's a really good football player. I think he'll grow from this experience and it's great to have that kind of experience go along with a win. I think it's a lot more fun to learn and advance and get an opportunity this next week to go out and to more to help your team win."
Another area in which the Jaguars must improve in this week is tackling, especially in the secondary. The Jaguars have had problems tackling for much of the season, and they missed a lot of key stops in the Pittsburgh game which helped the Steelers get back into the game despite having an 18-point lead. Each of the Jaguars corners and safeties that were active missed tackles last Saturday against Hines Ward, Santonio Holmes, and Heath Miller, among others. With the Patriots weapons of Randy Moss, Donte Stallworth, Wes Welker, and Laurence Maroney being considerably more elusive than the Steelers group, the Jaguars must put forth a better effort.
The Jaguars are currently a 12 point underdog entering Saturday's game with the Pats, and that spread is likely to grow this week, based on Jaguars defensive tackle John Henderson's availability or lack there of. The good news for Jacksonville is that the pressure is entirely off their shoulders. Patriots head coach Bill Belichick hasn't lost a game coming off a bye week in more than five years, and he's never lost a playoff game following a week off. In fact, the Patriots have gone on and won the Super Bowl each time that they've had a first or second seed. This Patriots team is poised to do "the impossible," and finish an undefeated season for the first time in the salary cap era. Jack Del Rio talked about the Patriots 2007 accomplishments-
"It's been remarkable. We saw it once before with the '72 Dolphins. Coach Shula and the Dolphins did it before and now the Patriots have duplicated it, and it'll probably get done again at some point. But it's a heck of a feat."
As much as the Jaguars physical style of play can hold up in any weather situation, very few people in league circles actually believe that they can pull this monumental upset. This is one of the rare opportunities that a coach can use the "us against the world" speech, despite having a very accomplished team that has won a playoff game in one of the toughest venue's in the league already. You can rest assured that Jack Del Rio will use every bit of motivation that he can find.
Charlie Bernstein is the Editor-in-Chief of JagNation.com, and a regular syndicated contributor to FoxSports.com, Sirius NFL Radio, MySpace Sports and Sportsillustrated.com. Charlie is also a member of the Pro Football Writers Association, and is a columnist for the New Smyrna Observer. Feel free to contact him -HERE- with questions or comments.
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