Once again the Steelers offense started out looking like a true Super Bowl contender, but finished the game looking like a high school team. They dominated the first quarter but could do nothing in the second half, barely squeaking past the Jacksonville Jaguars 17-13.
With the exception of one long drive in the second half that led to the Jaguars (1-5) lone touchdown, the defense continued its excellent play dominating the game despite constantly being put in poor field position by the offense.
|STRONG ARM—Steelers linebacker LaMarr Woodley (56) tackles Jacksonville Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew (32) on Oct. 16 at Heinz Field. The Steelers won 17-13. (Courier Photo/Thomas Sabol)
After going 11 of 18 for 118 yards and 2 touchdowns in the first half, Ben Roethlisberger was only 1 for 8 in the second half, missing wide open receivers. However, a healthy Rashard Mendenhall had his best game with 146 yards and one touchdown as the depleted offensive line continued to look impressive opening holes as well as protecting Ben.
The funk of the second half had nothing to do with the offensive line, as Ben had plenty of time to throw, he just wasn’t hitting open receivers. Mike Wallace finished with only 2 receptions for 72 yards both in the first quarter, and Hines Ward had 3 for 47 yards but it was enough to move him past Michael Irvin into 19th place all time in total receiving yardage. He has 11,939 yards.
“We didn’t play the style of football that we like to play in the second half,” Coach Mike Tomlin said.
The Steelers (4-2) managed just 70 yards in the second half and let the youthful Jaguars (1-5) hang around until the final play.
Not exactly the confidence builder Pittsburgh was looking for heading into the meat of its schedule following a four-game tour through the AFC South. Making matters worse, the team removed All-Pro safety Troy Polamalu from the game in the fourth quarter after experiencing what Tomlin called “concussion-like symptoms.”
Maurice Jones-Drew rushed for 96 yards; and a day after celebrating his 22nd birthday, rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert shook off five sacks to complete 12 of 26 passes for 109 yards and a touchdown. He put the Jaguars in a position to win it with a last-second heave that sailed harmlessly to the back of the end zone.
The Steelers had the urgency early, racing to a 17-0 lead behind Mendenhall who sat out last week’s 38-17 romp over Tennessee with a balky hamstring.
Reserves Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman played so well in Mendenhall’s absence, Tomlin said he’d likely split carries this week. Mendenhall’s performance, however, reminded Tomlin why he’s topped 1,000 yards each of the last two seasons.
Roethlisberger threw for 200 yards and a touchdown, but completed just one pass in the second half while getting sacked three times.
“If you get out to a 17-point lead and get comfortable, you take it off their throat,” Wallace said. “We have to keep the same intensity the whole game. We started out with a lot of intensity and then we fell off a little bit.”
The Steelers travel to Arizona next week to face the lowly Cardinals before a critical three-game home stand against Patriots, Ravens and Bengals.
“The big challenges lie ahead,” Tomlin said after the game.
“It was great to get a win. It wasn’t the kind of finish we were looking for but obviously we will take it. We acknowledge that we didn’t play the style of football that we like to play in the second half. We didn’t get off the field enough. We gave them an extra possession on special teams, with the roughing of the punter. We weren’t good enough on third downs, offensively, to sustain drives. All that being said, it’s great to talk about those things and learn lessons that will make us successful. We made the necessary plays there at the end. We got a first down offensively but we weren’t able to kill the clock. We had a nice punt, and then we applied enough pressure at the end to preserve victory. So for that, we are excited. We will march forward onto our next challenge.”
Asked about the team’s pass defense his response was “I think the jury is still out on us. I don’t run away from that. As a matter of fact, I encourage it. We’ve done some nice things but due to some circumstances, one way or another, we haven’t been tested like we will be. The big challenges lie ahead. We need to prepare for them.”
After losing to the Steelers in the 2008 Super Bowl the Cardinals have gone downhill. They are 1-4 this season and despite having probably the best wide receiver in the game in Larry Fitzgerald, this team is going nowhere this season. They are coming off a bye week after a lopsided 34-10 loss to the lowly Minnesota Vikings 1-5.
The Cardinals picked up Kevin Kolb from the Eagles with hopes he would solve their quarterback problem. They also picked up tight end Todd Heap but he only has 13 catches for 20 yards. The running game is better than in the past. Beanie Wells has 381 yards for an average of 4.8 per carry. But even though it doesn’t appear that they will be much of a challenge, one never knows which Steelers team will show up in Phoenix.
In the AFC North the Ravens (4-1) remained atop the division with a 29-14 victory over the Texans and the surprising Bengals stayed even with the Steelers with a 27-17 victory over the Colts. Cleveland (2-3) dropped to the bottom after losing to the Raiders 24-17.