Taking the Next Step

The Jaguars play the game Saturday night that will define their season. If they beat the Pittsburgh Steelers in Pittsburgh, they'll take the next step in their development.

It would be the first playoff victory in Jack Del Rio's five years as head coach and the first for the franchise since 1999.

Assuming that San Diego beats Tennessee, the Jaguars would then go to New England next Saturday night.

But, in effect, the stakes wouldn't be as high as they will be in Pittsburgh. In New England, the Jaguars would be an underdog and wouldn't be expected to win. If they pulled off an upset and spoiled New England's perfect season, that would be something special, but they'd be under no pressure to do it. The season will be a success even if they lose in New England. It won't be if they lose in Pittsburgh.

The Jaguars are favored in Pittsburgh and beat them, 29-22, just three weeks ago.

While the Jaguars are attempting to become the first team to win in Pittsburgh in the regular season and then go back and do it again in the playoffs, they have everything going for them in this game.

The Steelers are missing their best running back (Willie Parker), their best defensive lineman (Aaron Smith) and their top two left tackles (Marvel Smith and Max Starks).

That's why a loss would be so devastating. It would suggest they're on a plateau.

A loss would leave them with the tag of a team that can win a lot of regular-season games but can't win playoff games.

Del Rio would become the first coach since Norv Turner in his first five years in Washington from 1993-97 to fail to win a division title or a playoff game in his first five seasons as head coach.

He'd also join the handful of coaches who got a sixth season after failing to win a playoff game in his first five seasons, including Turner, Dennis Green and Jim Mora.

Win or lose, Del Rio is likely to get a contract extension after going 9-7, 12-4, 8-8 and 11-5 the past four seasons.

But he'll be in a much better bargaining position if he gets a playoff victory under his belt.

The Jaguars appear to be a team heading in the first direction.

As running back Fred Taylor said, "We'll see if it's better. At the end of the day, if we don't win, it's the same thing like the team in 2005.'"


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