"It's going to feel like old times out there," Jaguars running back Fred Taylor told the Florida Times-Union, and Taylor wasn't talking about that loss to the Titans. He was talking about the old rivalry with the Steelers, and that might not be news the Steelers (10-1) want to hear when they play the Jaguars (6-5) at 8:30 tonight.
The teams were fierce rivals in the old AFC Central Division, and in trips to Jacksonville the Steelers are a dismal 2-6. Here's the rundown:
- In the Jaguars' inaugural season, 1995, the Jaguars stunned the Steelers 20-16. It was the only time in league history an expansion team beat an eventual Super Bowl participant.
- The Steelers were stunned again when they traveled to Jacksonville for the 1996 opener. It was a hot and humid day and the Steelers lost outside linebacker Greg Lloyd in the first quarter with an injury. They also yanked starting quarterback Jim Miller after one quarter, giving way to Mike Tomczak for the rest of the season.
- Fully motivated in 1997, the Steelers again traveled to Jacksonville in September and snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. Norm Johnson lined up for a 32-yard field goal attempt to win the game, but the snap was bad and the kick was blocked and returned for a touchdown by Chris Hudson. Steelers coach Bill Cowher appeared ready to tackle Hudson as he ran past him down the sideline.
- The Steelers received a break from the weather in 1998, but not from the Jaguars, who clobbered the visitors 21-3 in the final game of the Steelers' first losing season under
- The result was similar in Week 12 of the dismal 1999 Steelers season. In free fall toward a 6-10 record, the Steelers were whipped 20-6 as James Stewart ran for 145 yards and Jimmy Smith gained 124 receiving yards to lead the Jaguars.
- A new decade brought a change of fortune for the Steelers, who won in Jacksonville for the first time, 24-13, on Oct. 1, 2000. The Steelers, 0-3 before the game, had turned to Kordell Stewart in place of Kent Graham and Stewart passed for 132 yards and rushed for 61 in the 24-13 win.
- The Steelers' 2001 season got off to a bad start in Jacksonville, where the Jaguars won by 21-3. The Steelers would later cite the loss and subsequent two weeks off as the springboard to a 13-3 record.
- The last Steelers' appearance in Jacksonville, on Dec. 1, 2002, put their record there at 2-6 with a 25-23 win.
After the last game there, Jaguars owner Wayne Weaver lamented the takeover of Alltell Stadium by Steelers fans. Yet the same possibility exists tonight, even though the Jaguars believe this to be a must-win game for their playoff hopes.
The Jaguars do have the potential to spring the upset. Quarterback Byron Leftwich, while immobile, is healthy. He'll be protected by a line full of top draft picks, except at left tackle where Ephraim Salaam has disappointed as a replacement for injured Mike Pearson. Journeyman Bob Whitfield could see time tonight at LT.
Fred Taylor is healthy and running hard. Taylor has 904 yards with an average of 4.8 yards per carry. The receiving threat is still Smith, who leads the team with 55 catches (16.5 avg.). Rookie Reggie Williams (22-195) has split time on the other side with former Steelers receiver Troy Edwards (33-358).
Defensively, the Jaguars rely up front on fast linebackers and the tackle tandem of Marcus Stroud (6-6, 312) and John Henderson (6-7, 328).
Holes in the Jaguars' defense include Dewayne Washington at right cornerback and Jason Gildon at defensive end, but both former Steelers should be motivated, along with about 75,000 others - give or take about 20,000 Steelers fans.
"They're a pretty good team right now," said Steelers linebacker Joey Porter. "What we did in the past doesn't matter now. It doesn't matter how many times they beat us in the past. We all have to line up Sunday and be ready to play that game."