The Jacksonville Jaguars withstood a furious fourth-quarter comeback by the Steelers and came back themselves to win the opening playoff game at Heinz Field last night.
Jacksonville won, 31-29, after blowing an 18-point lead in the fourth quarter and falling behind by one.
Josh Scobee kicked a 25-yard field goal with 37 seconds left to provide the winning points.
It was typical of many of the Steelers' previous six losses -- terrible special-teams errors and a comeback at the end that put them on top only to see their No. 1-ranked defense fail to hold the lead.
David Garrard saved the game for Jacksonville when he ran 32 yards on a quarterback draw on fourth-and-2 from the Steelers' 43 to set up the winning field goal.
"Look for it on SportsCenter," said linebacker Larry Foote, claiming he was held on the play. "You'll see a big hole open up, and there's a reason why. That's all I have to say."
Jacksonville advances to the AFC round of four next week against either Indianapolis or New England.
"It hurts," linebacker James Farrior said. "We're all going to be disappointed for a while about this one."
Ben Roethlisberger threw three interceptions in the first half, one returned for a touchdown, and looked more like the quarterback of 2006 than the one who made his first Pro Bowl. Roethlisberger also was sacked six times, and the Steelers' kickoff team failed them again by allowing a 96-yard return early.
The Steelers outgained the Jaguars, 340 yards to 239, and held them to 135 yards on the ground -- way above their defensive average but a sight better than the 224 they allowed Jacksonville Dec. 16.
But, as Hines Ward said, "You can't have that many turnovers." Especially, when they're again coupled with special-teams blunders.
"Nothing really soothes the feelings we have right now," coach Mike Tomlin said.
Roethlisberger and the offense nearly pulled it out in the fourth quarter.
Jacksonville held a 28-10 lead entering the final quarter before the Steelers stormed back on two touchdown passes from Roethlisberger and a Jeff Reed field goal to take a one-point lead.
The go-ahead touchdown came with 6:21 left after cornerback Ike Taylor intercepted a Garrard pass and returned it 31 yards to Jacksonville's 16.
Najeh Davenport scored from the 1 for a 29-28 Steelers lead. Their second 2-point conversion try then failed and ultimately the two missed opportunities were the difference.
The Steelers' defense clamped down on Jacksonville's next series. Rookie linebacker LaMarr Woodley sacked Garrard for the second time of the night with 4:07 left to force a punt.
That defense was called on to hold them again when the Jaguars got the ball at their 48 -- a 40-yard punt followed by a 16-yard return -- with 2:38 left, needing only a field goal to win.
This time, the defense was not up to the task -- something that also happened in losses to the New York Jets, Denver and now Jacksonville twice.
Roethlisberger threw two touchdown passes, of 37 yards to Santonio Holmes and 14 yards to Heath Miller, both in the fourth quarter. Davenport ran for an earlier 1-yard touchdown and Reed kicked a 28-yard field goal.
The Jaguars scored on Fred Taylor's 1-yard run after a 96-yard kickoff return by Jones-Drew, on Rashean Mathis' 63-yard return of an interception, and on two Jones-Drew touchdowns on a 43-yard pass from Garrard and a 10-yard run.
Roethlisberger completed 29 of 42 passes for 337 yards -- all postseason highs for him. He also threw those three interceptions.
Roethlisberger completed 5 of 6 passes on the first drive -- the big one a 36-yarder to Hines Ward along the right side to Jacksonville's 43. Ward would have his best day in the postseason with 135 yards on 10 catches.
Davenport, who ran 16 times for just 25 yards, finished the 10-play, 80-yard drive by running through a big hole off left guard for a 7-0 Steelers lead five minutes into the game.
Heinz Field rocked. They all forgot one thing: The dreaded Steelers kickoff team had to come onto the field. Reed's kick traveled 67 yards and Jones-Drew's return carried 96 to the Steelers' 1. One play later, Jacksonville tied the score, 7-7, when Taylor scored from the 1.
While the Steelers' defense was slamming the Jaguars, they were getting little help. With the ball at his 48, Roethlisberger threw toward Holmes into a crowd on the right, and Mathis stepped in front and ran 63 yards to put the Jaguars up, 14-7. Roethlisberger threw another interception on his next attempt, when he scrambled right under pressure from his 15 and threw into double coverage toward Davenport along the right sideline. Mathis leaped and intercepted at the Steelers' 46.
This time, the defense obliged. On third down, Garrard threw a medium pass to Jones-Drew over Farrior. The little halfback only had to beat safety Tyrone Carter, and he did for a 43-yard touchdown and a 21-7 Jacksonville lead with more than half the second quarter left.
After Scobee missed a 46-yard field-goal try, the Steelers were on the move late in the half with a first down at Jacksonville's 27 with 1:17 left. But Roethlisberger came up small again. Trying to throw a screen pass to Carey Davis, he did not loft it high enough, and rookie defensive tackle Derek Landri intercepted it to maintain the Jaguars' 21-7 lead as the half ended.
On the second play of the second half, Farrior intercepted a Garrard pass and returned it to Jacksonville's 43, but the Steelers had to settle for Reed's 28-yard field goal and a 21-10 score.
James Harrison sacked Garrard back to Jacksonville's 36, where it would have been third-and-12. But Ike Taylor was penalized for a rare facemask penalty while covering Ernest Wilford.
Instead of third-and-long, Jacksonville had a first down at the Steelers' 49. Three plays later, they led, 28-10, after Jones-Drew ran 10 yards untouched around the left side for a touchdown.
The Steelers responded with a 69-yard drive that ended when Roethlisberger found Holmes on the left side on fourth-and-12. Holmes broke two tackles on the way to a 37-yard touchdown and a 28-17 score early in the fourth quarter.
The Steelers drove another 69 yards with the final play a 14-yard touchdown pass over the middle from Roethlisberger to Miller. Ward made a nice catch of the 2-point conversion, but the officials called center Sean Mahan for holding on the play, putting the extra-point attempt back to the 12. Incredibly, the decision was still to go for the 2 from there. Roethlisberger scrambled up the middle, but came up short with 10:25 to go.
Tomlin said he had no second thoughts about going for 2 either time, but kicking extra points after each would have given his team a three-point lead.
Ed Bouchette can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org . First Published January 6, 2008 5:30 AM