Ben Roethlisberger tries to scramble away from pressure in the first quarter. (vs. Jaguars 12/16/2007)
By Ed Bouchette Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Ben Roethlisberger broke Terry Bradshaw's touchdown passing record yesterday.
He did it without breaking anything else, which was at least one bright spot in a snow-covered, 29-22 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Roethlisberger, listed as questionable with a sore shoulder that prevented him from practicing two days last week, made it through yesterday without any apparent further injury, even though he was sacked another five times.
With two games left, Roethlisberger is threatening another team quarterback record, this one for most sacks in a season. He has 43, eight from Cliff Stoudt's dubious record in 1983 when he was bagged 51 times by opponents. Last season, Roethlisberger was sacked 46 times.
"Offensively, we have to block people better," coach Mike Tomlin said. "We have to finish our plays better. We have to protect our passer. Receivers have to get open. The quarterback has to get rid of the ball. We have to catch the ball if we have an opportunity to do that."
Don't count on it
Sure things for the Steelers are not so sure anymore. Things such as their defense rising up at the end of tight games, winning close games, and the surest sign of victory of them all -- a Willie Parker 100-yard game.
The Steelers won 18 of Parker's first 19 100-yard rushing games. Since then, they are 0 for 2 when Parker ran for 100 yards, both in the past two games.
Parker, the NFL's leading rusher, ran 14 times for 100 yards yesterday. It was his second consecutive 100-yard game and the Steelers' second consecutive loss. He ran for 124 yards in a 34-13 loss Dec. 9 to New England.
"It's tough, man," Parker said. "You have to find ways to win the game, that's all there is. The fans are angry, they've got that right. We played like crap."
Parker said the Steelers still are searching for an identity even though this is the 15th week of the season.
"It seems we're still trying to find our identity and the season's almost over," he said. "We need to buckle down."
A good example was the running game yesterday. The Steelers, long identified as a run-first team, ran the ball 17 times yesterday for 111 yards.
"We're not running the ball that much and we're a running team," he said.
Injuries adding up
The Steelers lost two more starters yesterday and it's undetermined whether they will return to play Thursday night in St. Louis against the Rams.
Cornerback Ike Taylor left the game with a left knee injury and offensive tackle Marvel Smith left with recurring back problems, both in the fourth quarter.
Taylor said his knee was injured in the second quarter but he stayed in the game longer "just being stubborn."
He limped in the locker room but had no brace or bandage on either knee. He said he will have more tests today.
Smith "was in a great deal of pain," Tomlin said. "We decided to go with the healthy man, which was Max Starks."
Allen Rossum, the Steelers' kickoff and punt returner, left the game in the third quarter after receiving a blow to the head. Najeh Davenport replaced him on kickoff returns, and Cedrick Wilson took over on punt returns.
Caution signs ahead
The Steelers ended their regular-season home schedule 7-1. Their final two games come on the road, where they are 2-4, at St. Louis Thursday night and at Baltimore.
"It's do or die now," defensive end Brett Keisel said. "We had an opportunity to get into the playoffs and didn't seize it."
A victory yesterday would have clinched at least a wild-card playoff berth. If they remain in a tie atop the AFC North Division with Cleveland, they will win the title because of their two victories against the Browns.
What once seemed assured now has them scrambling for their lives.
"It's coming down to the wire now and we need every win we can get," linebacker James Farrior said.
"Two games -- unfortunately they're road games, something we haven't been good at," Hines Ward said. "We have a short week going to St. Louis and having Baltimore at the end, that will be a hard game.
"We have to bounce back."
Up and down day
Free safety Anthony Smith had some moments to remember and some he would like to forget in the loss to Jacksonville.
His early fourth-quarter interception of a David Garrard pass and subsequent return of 50 yards to the Jaguars' 12 set up the Steelers' second touchdown, cutting the score to 22-14. That was the good part.
But Smith also was burned for a 55-yard scoring pass from Garrard to Dennis Northcutt with 5:25 left in the third quarter, giving Jacksonville a 22-7 lead.
"The wind caught it and the ball drifted on me and took it away," Smith said of the Northcutt score. "I was at the right place and the wind just took it back the other way. I was a second late."
Smith, who gained notoriety for saying he would "guarantee" a Steelers victory a week ago against New England (a 34-13 loss), was beaten deep twice in that game.
Not a sack in sight
On 123 opposition passing plays in the past three games, the Steelers have one sack. The had none yesterday for the second game in a row. It hasn't seemed to matter much to Tomlin.
"We missed him a few times," Tomlin said of Garrard. "It concerns me that we lost for the second week in a row. All the other stuff is irrelevant. We didn't play to win. We win today; we don't worry about whether or not we got a sack. We focus on what matters and that is winning football games."
The Steelers activated a third halfback yesterday instead of a third tight end. Rookie halfback Gary Russell dressed and tight end Jon Dekker did not. Russell did not play on offense, however.
The rest of the Steelers inactives: WR Willie Reid, S Grant Mason, LB Andre Frazier, OL Darnell Stapleton, OT Trai Essex, DE Ryan McBean, QB Brian St. Pierre.
The Jacksonville inactives: WR John Broussard, RB LeBrandon Toefield, CB Aaron Glenn, LB Mike Peterson, G Uche Nwaneri, OL Tutan Reyes, DE Jeremy Mincey, DE Reggie Hayward.
• Heath Miller had his seventh touchdown reception, his career high and tied for the lead with Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes.
• Anthony Smith's interception ties him for the team lead with two.
• The Jaguars have won 20 consecutive games in which they've led after three quarters, even after blowing a 15-point fourth-quarter lead yesterday. They are 8-0 when scoring first.
• The 421 total yards represented the fourth consecutive game in which Jacksonville has surpassed 400.
Jerry Micco and Gene Collier of the Post-Gazette contributed to this report. First Published December 17, 2007 5:00 AM