The Jacksonville Jaguars and the Pittsburgh Steelers continued down paths in opposite directions on Sunday while at the same time, both extending their streaks to six consecutive games.
For the Steelers, it was a matter of one good quarter offsetting three really bad quarters. And for the Jaguars, it was a valiant effort for three quarters before they went back to their losing ways in a game they led from early in the first quarter to the final seconds.
Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger who struggled for the first 43 minutes of the game with just 60 passing yards, capped an incredible final 17 minutes by diving over the goal line with five seconds remaining in the game to send the Steelers to a 20-16 win over the Jaguars at TIAA Bank Field.
It was the Steelers sixth win in a row since starting the season 1-2-1. It also gave the AFC North Division leaders a measure of revenge for the two defeats that the Jaguars pinned on them at Heinz Field last year, including a 45-42 defeat in the second round of the playoffs.
For Jacksonville it marked the sixth defeat in a row since starting the season 3-1 including a win over current AFC East leader New England in Week 2. Jacksonville has now lost three straight home games, albeit one of them was a “home game” in London.
With two minutes to play in the third quarter, Jacksonville was coasting with what appeared to be a safe 16-0 lead. Up to that point, the secondary had done a number on Roethlisberger and his talented receivers, holding the Steelers to just 10 completions in 23 attempts for a meager 60 passing yards.
But that’s when the wheels came off the bus for Jacksonville, on both sides of the ball. It started with a mis-communication in the Jaguars secondary as to who was suppose to be covering who. It left Antonio Brown running free down the middle of the field. Roethlisberger hit his favorite receiver in stride and the play resulted in a 78-yard touchdown for the Steelers first score of the game.
It marked the beginning of the end for the Jaguars.
Here’s a comparison of points and yardage that took place in the final 17 minutes of the game:
Pittsburgh: 1 rushing yard, 254 passing yards, 16 points.
Jacksonville: 6 rushing yards, -14 passing yards (including three QB sacks), 0 points.
Roethlisberger called the comeback huge.
“This is a good defense,” he said about the Jaguars. “A really good football team. Give them a lot of credit. We just never quit. And what’s kind of special about this group is that that we’re going to fight until the end, and we literally fought until the end. I’ve got to give a lot of credit to the man upstairs and our defense, they were awesome today.”
For the first three quarters of the game, Jacksonville didn’t look like a team in the midst of a lengthy losing streak. The defense was playing lights out and the offense put together four scoring drives although only one resulted in a touchdown. But it was 16 unanswered points and it gave hope to another sellout crowd that the team’s losing ways were about to come to an end.
Leonard Fournette once again showed why he was so missed when he had to sit out six of the team’s first eight games due to a hamstring injury. Fournette finished with 95 yards on the ground and helped the Jaguars roll up 179 rushing yards, the first time in eight games that Pittsburgh had allowed a team more than 100 yards on the ground.
Jacksonville’s passing game continues to be limited however. Blake Bortles was 10-of-18 but almost all were short throws as evidenced by his 104 passing yards. What’s more glaring however is that he was sacked six times for a minus-40 yards dropping the Jaguars net passing total to just 64 yards.
“I think early on obviously I felt we wanted to run the ball and be physical and I felt we were able to do that,” Jaguars coach Doug Marrone said. “Obviously defensively we played well. We should have had safety help on the long ball to Antonio Brown, so that was a play that we gave them. And at the end, I think we had three or four 3-and-outs at the end of the game. That’s what’s tough. If you just had one first down on any of those drives, you had a chance to win that football game and we weren’t able to do that. That’s disappointing.”
Included in Jacksonville’s four straight 3-and-out was the last one when the Jaguars had to punt and Pittsburgh took over on its 32-yard line with 1:42 left in the game. Two big plays –a 35-yard pass to JuJu Smith-Schuster and a 25-yard completion to Brown on a 3rd-and-10 – gave the Steelers a first and goal at 2-yard line with 50 seconds remaining. It took them four tries from there (the Jaguars were called for a pair of penalties in the end zone) before Roethlisberger made his dive into the end zone.
Two plays before that, it appeared that the Jaguars might have a victory at hand. D.J. Hayden intercepted Roethlisberger in the end zone but officials called a face mask call on Hayden before the interception.
“He pushed me so I grabbed him and it was a long play so I was just out there trying to make a play,” Hayden said. “If I’d never have grabbed his helmet, we probably would have won the game.”
That indeed would have been the case as the play occurred with just 15 seconds left in the game.
Instead the Jaguars were left pondering how a team that had talked about a spot in the Super Bowl this year could now be headed to another dismal record.