Are the Jaguars taking on the Pittsburgh Steelers at a good time or a bad time this Sunday when the Steelers make a visit to TIAA Bank Field?
Jacksonville is in the midst of a 5-game losing streak and is on the verge of losing any hope of a repeat trip to postseason play. That’s a colossal disappointment after the Jaguars reached the AFC Championship Game a year ago where they lost a 10-point, fourth-quarter lead in falling to the New England Patriots. The week before that game, Jacksonville pinned a 45-42 defeat on Pittsburgh at Heinz Field to match the win that the Jaguars had earlier in the season at the same local.
Two wins on the Steelers’ home turf should give the Jaguars confidence that they can play with the AFC North Division leaders. But it’s also likely that the Steelers will be coming to town on Sunday with revenge on their mind. Losing twice to a team on their home field in the same year has only happened twice in Steelers history and Jacksonville can claim both feats (2007, 2018).
Several Jaguars players spoke on Wednesday how they felt that the Steelers would have the proverbial “chip-on-the-shoulder” mentality when they take the field at 1 p.m. on Sunday.
“Yeah I would imagine so,” said middle linebacker Myles Jack. “I’m sure a lot of teams are kind of having that ‘get-back party’ against us. But yeah, I definitely think they would want to kind of avenge what happened last year because we jumped on them last year.
“I won’t say guys are playing harder [against us], it’s just a little more want-to, but we’ll have that same intensity. And even though our record doesn’t show it, it’s going to be two talented teams going at each other. Guys are going to step up. There’s going to be super stars on the field so it’s going to be a high-caliber game. I feel we can get a win, I feel that every time I suit up and go out there. This will be a great week for us to get a win and get the ball rolling for the remainder of the season.”
Veteran defensive end Calais Campbell knows the Jaguars are in a must-win situation. Only four teams in the modern-Super Bowl era have started a season with a 3-6 record and managed to make the playoffs that season. The 1996 Jaguars are one of the four. That season, the team’s second year as an NFL franchise, won six of their final seven games to not only make the playoffs, but advance all the way to the AFC Championship game where they lost to New England.
“Our margin for error is zero. Our backs are against the wall but we have the ability to do something special,” Campbell said. “We have to bury the past and just look forward. With our team, our coaches and the way we prepare, I don’t see why we can’t make it happen. Put the past behind us and take it one day at a time, we can make it happen.
“This is arguably the most talented team in the NFL and they’re playing very good football right now. They have a Hall of Fame quarterback and a Hall of Fame receiver and an O-line that is smart and savvy.
This is a team I have a lot of respect for, it’s a team that [with a win] can really get us going. That might be the spark we need to make a run.
And will the Steelers bring that shoulder chip with them because of what happened last year?
“I don’t know, I know I would if I was them,” Campbell said. “Teams are different year-to-year, but if it was me, I would have a little extra for them.”
Defensive tackle Malik Jackson said the Jaguars have to put all those thoughts out of mind and just worry about their own situation.
“We’ve got to win this. We can’t worry about who the opponent is,” Jackson said. “We know they are good but we need to fix our problems. We’re looking at fixing some things internally and that’s what we’re doing. It’s not hard to get motivated.”
The Steelers likely feel they got a break when the Jaguars lost the opportunity to have the game appear on NBC’s national TV Sunday night package. The game fell under the flex-option by the league and the network and with the Jaguars in a five-game losing streak, the game was “flexed” back to a 1 p.m. start compared to an 8:20 start. That helps the Steelers on two fronts. It prevents the Jaguars crowd from getting extra-hyped knowing they were the feature game on national TV, and it means the Steelers will be returning home seven hours earlier than they originally had anticipated. Had the game been played in prime time, the Steelers would have arrived in early hours on Monday morning. Instead it will be a comfortable return flight home that will touch down well before midnight.
“We would have loved to play this game in prime time and let the whole world see you but I understand why we’re not there,” Campbell said.
Jaguars coach Doug Marrone concurred with that thinking and said he understood why the change was made. When asked last week after the announcement of the change was made, if the Jaguars are worthy of playing in front of a national audience right now, Marrone had a simple answer – “No.”