GERRY DULAC grades the Steelers' effort in a 29-22 loss yesterday to the Jaguars. The report is broken down into offensive and defensive positions, special teams and coaching.
Ben Roethlisberger threw three more touchdowns to set a team single-season record and rallied the Steelers from a 22-7 deficit in the fourth quarter. What's more, he did not throw an interception, despite missing two days of practice with a sore right shoulder, and he did not get a lot of help from his receivers, who dropped three passes.
Running backs: B
Despite getting his eighth 100-yard game of the season on only 14 carries, Willie Parker was not a big factor because the team had to play from behind in the fourth quarter. Still, he averaged 7.1 yards per attempt and his biggest play was a 27-yard run with a lateral on a play in which it appeared Roethlisberger would be sacked, leading to the tying touchdown.
Two drops by Hines Ward and another by tight end Heath Miller in the end zone are what will be remembered about this game. Ward atoned with an 11-yard touchdown between two defenders and Miller made a nice adjustment on a tipped pass to catch an 18-yard touchdown. The only big play was a 30-yard touchdown by Nate Washington -- his only catch -- in the fourth quarter. Give Cedrick Wilson credit for a hard, accurate throw on a 2-point conversion to Santonio Holmes.
Offensive line: D
A tough day for LT Marvel Smith, the team's best pass protector, who gave up four of the five sacks before being replaced in the fourth quarter because of a back injury. Roethlisberger was under too much pressure, especially in the first half, forcing him to move up in the pocket. But the line did a nice job creating running room for Parker, who had runs of 13, 13, 16 and 27 yards against the league's No. 5 rush defense.
Defensive line: F
Need any more proof how much DE Aaron Smith will be missed? The Jaguars rushed for 224 yards on 42 carries, the most in seven years against the Steelers, and averaged 5.3 yards per attempt. Fred Taylor was the second back in five games to rush for more than 100 yards (147 on 25 carries, a Heinz Field record for an opponent).
It was the third time this season the defense gave up a winning drive in the final minute or overtime, and the Jaguars did it by rushing for 53 of the 73 yards. Larry Foote was a standout, with 10 tackles and a nice pass breakup on third down in the fourth quarter. But the linebackers were responsible for letting Maurice Jones-Drew run for 20 and 17 yards on two delays in third-and-long situations.
After allowing four touchdown passes against the Patriots, the secondary gave up three more to Garrard. What's more, they served up another long touchdown -- a 55-yarder in which CB Ike Taylor and S Anthony Smith were beaten down the right sideline. Smith gained some redemption with an interception and 50-yard return that sparked a fourth-quarter comeback, but it wasn't enough. S Troy Polamalu was outstanding after missing three games with a knee injury.
Special teams: B
Can't blame this one on special teams. The brightest spot was P Daniel Sepulveda, who dropped two punts inside the 20 and nailed a 55-yarder from his end zone when field position mattered in the first half. Also, he did a good job handling a high snap on an extra point in cold, wet conditions.
It was the first time this season the Steelers have lost back-to-back games, and the reasons are not encouraging -- slow starting on offense, late collapses on defense. Mike Tomlin wants to blame it on poor fundamentals, but the team has lost three of its past five games and won the other two by a combined six points. Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau needs to stop the leaks in the league's No. 1 defense.