Jaguars Run Riot, Hand Steelers First Home Loss Of The Season
Steelers Fever Exclusive Editorial
|Tuesday, December 18, 2007
By Eddie Griffin
Steelers Fever Columnist
The Steelers made a valiant fourth-quarter, 15-point comeback, but in the end, couldn't slow down Jacksonville's two-headed rushing attack, as the Jaguars handed Pittsburgh a 29-22 loss in their regular-season home finale.
After the Jaguars took a 3-0 lead into the second quarter, a short punt gave the Steelers the ball at the Jacksonville 31, and four plays later, Heath Miller caught an 18-yard touchdown pass from Ben Roethlisberger to put the Steelers up 7-3.
However, from that point, Jacksonville shut down the Pittsburgh offense over the next couple of quarters and got theirs going in a big way, scoring 19 unanswered points to take a 22-7 lead going into the fourth quarter.
The game turned in the first minute of the fourth. Jacksonville was driving for a potential back-breaking score, when David Garrard threw only his second interception of the season, with Anthony Smith picking off the throw and returning it 50 yards to the Jaguars 12. Roethlisberger connected with Hines Ward for an 11-yard touchdown to pull Pittsburgh within 22-14 with 13:11 left, and it was a game again.
Jacksonville drove into Pittsburgh territory yet again, and had a 2nd and 3 at the 45, but the defense held, forcing a punt that put the Steelers at their own 16 with 9:29 left.
On the ensuing drive, Willie Parker had runs of 13 and 27 yards, the latter coming on a play in which Roethlisberger tossed it to him as he was being hit, and Santonio Holmes caught an 18-yard pass for a first down on 3rd and 18, leading to a 30-yard touchdown pass to Nate Washington. On the two-point conversion play, Cedric Wilson, a star QB in his high school days in Memphis before being a standout receiver at the University of Tennessee, found Holmes wide open in the back of the end zone to tie things up at 22 with 5:46 left.
Unfortunately, the defense could not stop the Jaguars offense, and Jacksonville drove 73 yards in eight plays, taking the decisive lead on a 12-yard touchdown run by Fred Taylor, who shredded the Pittsburgh defense all day, going for 147 yards on 25 carries.
Still, there was 1:57 left on the clock for Big Ben and the offense to try to drive down for a tying score. Najeh Davenport returned the kickoff to the 41, and a Roethlisberger scramble on 3rd and 10 got the ball into Jacksonville territory. However, on 4th and 7 from the 45, Heath Miller caught a pass but came up short of the first-down marker, turning the ball over to the Jaguars, who ran the clock out to hand Pittsburgh their first home defeat of the season.
Pittsburgh was held to only 217 net yards, their second-lowest output of the season (216 vs. the Dolphins in Week 12). Willie Parker ran for exactly 100 yards on 14 carries, and Big Ben, despite his three touchdown passes that gave him a new Steeler record of 29 (breaking Terry Bradshaw's record of 28, set in 1978), was held to 16 of 33 passing for 146 yards.
But, in the end, the Jaguars offense proved to have no issues with the snow or the Pittsburgh defense. Jacksonville ran for 224 yards and racked up 421 yards total. The Jaguars had nine runs of at least 10 yards or more, with four of them coming on the game-winning touchdown drive, the biggest being a 20-yarder by Maurice Jones-Drew on 3rd and 11 from the Pittsburgh 32, and shortly thereafter, the knockout blows were delivered, and the Steelers suffered back-to-back losses for the first time since Weeks 8 and 9 of last season.
The fact that they didn't give up when Jacksonville went up 22-7 is something to think positively of, even if it didn't turn out in the Steelers' favor in the end.
Though he didn't get nearly as many carries as he might have liked, Willie Parker was able to break solid runs against a tough Jaguars defense multiple times, going for 27, 16, 13, and 13 yards.
The offensive line proved to be a little overmatched several times throughout the afternoon, resulting in five sacks of Roethlisberger, which had to be a little extra painful given the sore right shoulder that held him out of practice for a few days.
Pittsburgh came into the game leading the league in time of possession, but Jacksonville wound up with a 15 minute, 8 second advantage in time of possession. Along with that 20-play drive that took nearly 10 minutes off of the clock, Jacksonville had a touchdown drive at the end of the second quarter that took up 5:06, and four other possessions that lasted at least 3:05.
Last, but most certainly not least, there's the complete domination of Jacksonville's ground game over what was supposed to be one of the best rushing defenses in the league.
Two weeks ago, Pittsburgh had a two-game lead in the division. Now, with back to back losses and Cleveland victories over the Jets and Buffalo, there's a tie atop the division, as both teams are now 9-5.
Pittsburgh still holds the tiebreaker by virtue of their two wins over the Browns, but there's no margin of error as the Steelers look to clinch the division once again when they head to 3-11 St. Louis.
The situation is still the same -- one Pittsburgh win, one Cleveland loss = AFC North title.
However, their hopes for the #3 seed took a serious hit after San Diego routed Detroit 51-14 to move to 9-5. If both teams win out, San Diego would get the #3 seed by virtue of a better record against conference opponents, and that could mean a road trip to New England in the divisional round.
St. Louis isn't to be underestimated, despite their poor record. So, it's imperative that Pittsburgh bring their best to the Edward Jones Dome. If they don't, there's a good chance that division title that seemed a mere formality just a few short weeks ago could be in great jeopardy heading into Week 17.