Taylor, Jags are hot team with cold mentality
In beating the Steelers in adverse conditions, the Jaguars showed they are a team that can thrive in playoff weather -- especially with Fred Taylor in the backfield, writes Len Pasquarelli.
Still, if the Jacksonville Jaguars' star tailback were to select the most appropriate words to accompany his standout performance in his team's 29-22 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers in adverse conditions, the lyrics would come from a holiday golden oldie that is anything but hip or hop.
Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.
Yeah, the weather Sunday was, as predicted days ago, pretty frightful. Which, for Taylor, a Florida native who has played his entire football career in his home state, made things absolutely delightful.
In a game in which the final score belied the Jaguars' dominance along the line of scrimmage, Taylor rushed for a season-high 147 yards on 25 carries and scored the winning touchdown on a 12-yard burst over right tackle with 1:57 remaining. He also exceeded the 1,000-yard mark for the seventh time in his 10-year career and surpassed the 100-yard mark for the fourth consecutive game, his longest such streak since the 2000 season.
Taylor joked that he is on such a hot streak that the "league will probably [drug]-test me in the morning."
Said Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio: "He ran authoritatively and with decisiveness. He made his cuts, and he got vertical. Fred did a nice job of bleeding out the run, as we like to say."
Other than the fact that Jacksonville squandered a 15-point lead in the fourth quarter, Taylor and the Jaguars passed a big test in beating up on the Steelers, who fell into a tie with the Cleveland Browns for first in the AFC North.
The Steelers' defense suddenly is suspect, giving up big yardage for the second consecutive week, a worrisome sign with the playoffs just around the corner. Meanwhile, the Jags must feel pretty good, having established themselves as a viable threat to exact some damage in the playoffs, even though they are destined to be a wild-card entry.
This is a Florida-based team that, oddly enough, is constructed for the kind of bad weather that descended upon Heinz Field on Sunday afternoon when an incredibly quick-moving whiteout, fueled by gusting 40 mph winds that whipped around the stadium, dumped snow on the already-treacherous surface only 15 minutes before kickoff. These are the kind of conditions teams understand they might confront in the postseason.
That's why the Jags, despite falling short in several so-called "statement games" in the past, managed to send a message Sunday. They possess the level of talent and the physical mind-set to make things miserable for playoff opponents."This is a message to the rest of the league that, 'Hey, we're for real,'" quarterback David Garrard said. "You don't want to get too high over this kind of stuff, but you want to have some swagger going into the playoffs and this is the kind of game that gives it to you."
It also sent another message: Taylor is the kind of running back who can thrive in adverse weather.
Of Taylor's 46 career 100-yard games, 15 have come in December -- and 19 of his past 25 have come after Nov. 1. For a guy who grew up in Belle Glade, Fla., where the locals know a lot more about sugarcane than candy canes, and who has played his high school, college and professional careers in the Sunshine State, being oblivious to cold weather and snow now comes naturally.
"I love it," said Taylor, who very quietly has moved into 18th place on the NFL's all-time rushing list with 10,604 career yards, but who, in a gross oversight, has never been chosen for a Pro Bowl berth. "I heard some of our guys talking this week about the weather, and I told them they were making too big a deal out of it.
"Really, it's never as bad as they claim it's going to be, or as bad as you think it will be. Bring it on. I've lived in Florida all my life, but I'm thinking of buying a home someplace where it gets snow."
OK, so not in some bone-chilling venue like Chicago, Taylor acknowledged, but maybe Charlotte. He doesn't, after all, love the snow that much.
There is a good chance, though, that the Jaguars will face poor conditions at some point in the playoffs. And given the physical nature of Del Rio's team, and an increasing confidence that has made some Jacksonville veterans all but oblivious to the elements, this Southern team with a Northern mentality seems well girded.
This is a message to the rest of the league that, "Hey, we're for real."
-- Jaguars quarterback David Garrard
Led by Taylor, the Jaguars pounded out 224 yards on 42 carries, with the interior of their offensive line carving out huge creases in the Steelers' 3-4 front. Taylor's tag-team partner, Maurice Jones-Drew, complemented his teammate by rushing for 69 yards on 12 carries, twice converting third-and-long situations on draw plays that confounded a Pittsburgh defense that should have known they were coming.
The last time Pittsburgh surrendered 200 rushing yards was Nov. 26, 2000, at Cincinnati. The last Steelers home game in which an opponent ran for 200 yards was one week before that, when Taylor -- whose past success against the Pittsburgh unit has been well documented -- ran for 234 of Jacksonville's 240 yards.
In the days leading up to Sunday's game, Taylor delivered a simple message -- stay hungry -- to his younger and more impressionable teammates. And then, providing the biggest impetus against a Steelers team that is supposed to play well and play physical in poor conditions, Taylor delivered many of the biggest body blows.
For his efforts, Taylor was awarded the game ball, and before the media was allowed into the locker room, his teammates could be heard though the door chanting his name.
"It's the kind of feeling that makes you wish you could play forever," Taylor said. "And these are the kinds of games you always want to play in.
"They're the games I thrive on."
Senior writer Len Pasquarelli covers the NFL for ESPN.com.
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