Steelers Come Up Short In Defensive Classic - By Greg Stephens

Steelers Fever Exclusive Editorial

Everyone expected Monday night's encounter between Jacksonville and Pittsburgh to be a close, hard-hitting defensive struggle. What no one expected was the lowest scoring game in the thirty-seven seasons of Monday Night Football. The Jacksonville Jaguars outlasted the Steelers to come away with a 9-0 victory.

Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, starting in the face of an appendectomy fifteen days prior, as well as a 104 degree fever early Monday afternoon, looked crisp on the first two plays of the game, connecting on two passes, each for first downs. Pittsburgh's drive was stalled, however, when Jacksonville's Brian Williams broke up a sideline pass to Steelers receiver Cedric Wilson, forcing a punt.

The Steelers defense got off to a fast start, with Larry Foote recording his first sack of the season, and linebacker Clark Haggans intercepting the first pass of his career after James Farrior tipped a Byron Leftwich pass into the air. The first two series of the game set the tone for the entire first half. Pittsburgh would possess the ball four more time in the half, punting the ball on each of those. Roethlisberger was visibly frustrated by the second quarter, constantly appearing on camera shaking his head and keeping his hands on his hips. He would finish the first half with a meager sixty yards, going 8 for 13, and never moving his team into Jaguar territory. His counterpart would finish the first half with only one hundred twelve yards, going 13 for 18, with one interception. Jacksonville would also have the ball five times in the first half, punting on the four possessions following the interception.

The second half began where the first left off. Jacksonville opened the half with a brief sign of life, with running back Fred Taylor picking up twenty-five yards for a first down. That drive ended, however, with a Jaguar punt, convincing fans the second half would be another titanic defensive battle. That belief would be reinforced as the Steelers would take the field and likewise punt after John Henderson sacked Roethlisberger, untouched, for a loss of ten on the Steelers own eight yard line.

The Jaguars would then begin opening up their offense. They would move the ball fifty-eight yards on eleven plays, on a brilliant combination of rushing and passing. Fred Taylor picked up twenty-one yards on the drive, while Leftwich picked up thirty yards in the air. The drive was capped by a thirty-one yard field goal, the first score of the game, with about five and a half minutes left in the third quarter.

The Jaguars would tack on six more points on field goals of thirty-two and forty-two yards. They experienced offensive success moving the ball down the field by mixing a potent combination of Fred Taylor rushing and Matt Jones receiving. Taylor would finish the night with ninety-two yards on twenty-two carries. Jones finished with seventy-three yards on six catches. Reggie Williams contributed ninety-five yards on eight receptions. Leftwich finished with an impressive two hundred sixty yards while completing two-thirds of his passes.

The Steelers never found their offensive groove. The second half did mirror the first for Pittsburgh, as they had six second half possessions, three of which ended with punts, two of which ended with Rashean Mathis interceptions, and one resulting in a turnover on downs. Parker was held to a final tally of just twenty yards on eleven carries. The Steelers' twenty-six yards net rushing was the lowest rushing total for a Bill Cowher-coached Steelers team. Hines Ward, visibly upset on the sidelines by the early part of the third quarter, proved to be a non-factor, catching only two passes for twenty-nine yards. Roethlisberger ended the night with 141 yards, completing 17 of 32 passes, taking two sacks and throwing two interceptions. He also took a strong hit to the mid-section in the late fourth quarter that caused obvious pain to the recovering quarterback.

Next Sunday, the Steelers host division rival, and co-leader, Cincinnati. Jacksonville faces the Indianapolis Colts at the RCA Dome. Both games are key divisional match-ups, and both begin at 1:00 P.M. eastern time.