What a way to head into a bye week
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No Willie Parker. No Rashard Mendenhall. No Carey Davis. No Kendall Simmons. No Marvel Smith late.
Watching the Steelers come from behind to beat the Jacksonville Jaguars, 26-21, on the road last night after a short week and a body-bag Monday night game against the Baltimore Ravens brought back memories of something Bill Cowher always said after his team stood tall in the face of the roughest adversity:
"I've never been more prouder of a bunch of guys."
Well, Mike Tomlin was pretty darn proud after this one, too.
With good reason.
"This was a great night for the Steelers, man," Tomlin fairly gushed shortly before midnight. "Our injury situation was well-documented. Those guys didn't look for a potential excuse. They embraced the challenge. They stepped up and delivered."
Maybe the Steelers caught a break with a game against the Jaguars, a shell of the team that beat them twice in Pittsburgh last season, including a killer loss in the playoffs. The Jacksonville defense had just five sacks in four games coming in. Its secondary was without two injured starters, cornerback Drayton Florence and safety Reggie Nelson.
But to just say the Jaguars' defense was bad would unfairly cheapen an impressive, when-it-counted performance by a Steelers' offense that was down to fourth-team running back Mewelde Moore and had guard Darnell Stapleton making his first NFL start for the injured Simmons. Moore and his backup, Gary Russell, provided enough of a running threat to keep the Jaguars honest, Moore rushing for 99 yards on 17 carries. Stapleton, little-used tackle Trai Essex -- in for Smith (cramps) in the fourth quarter -- and their oft-criticized pals on the offensive line kept quarterback Ben Roethlisberger relatively clean, allowing three sacks.
Big Ben must have felt as if this were a lovely moonlit night on Jacksonville Beach after he was sacked 15 times in the first four games.
No one will confuse Roethlisberger's offense with, say, Tom Brady's New England offense or Peyton Manning's Indianapolis offense, but, on this October evening, it was just good enough to send the Steelers into their perfectly timed bye week with a 4-1 record and control of the AFC North Division.
Roethlisberger, especially, was good enough.
"Ben is an amazing player," Jaguars cornerback Rashean Mathis said. "He makes plays that other quarterbacks probably wouldn't. On that last drive, he definitely made some great plays."
Down 21-20 with 61/2 minutes left, Roethlisberger led the Steelers on the winning touchdown drive. All things considered, it was stunning: an 11-play, 80-yard work of art. Big Ben completed a third-and-three pass for 8 yards to wide receiver Nate Washington and then, after Washington took a selfish, foolish taunting penalty and under tremendous pressure from the Jaguars' rush, a fabulous third-and-eight pass for 18 yards to wide receiver Hines Ward. The 5-yard fade pass to Ward for the touchdown with 1:53 to go was routine by comparison.
Brady and Manning couldn't have run that drive any better.
No quarterback could have made that 18-yard pass to Ward better.
"That was a heck of a football play," Jacksonville coach Jack Del Rio said. "Guys were draped on him and somehow he got his arm out of the way and got the ball completed out of there. That's special. That was really the difference."
"That's why he's Big Ben," Moore said. "Only a few guys can stare down the barrel like that and still throw the ball on target. He's one of them."
Said Tomlin of Roethlisberger's 18-yard pass to Ward: "That's Ben. Sometimes, he holds the ball too long and the O-line catches a bad rap for it. But you take the good with the bad. He's capable of making plays like that. He's very good at what he does."
"A double-edged sword," Roethlisberger called it. "Sometimes it helps you. Sometimes it hurts you."
It helped big time on this night.
No, Roethlisberger's offense wasn't perfect, not by a long shot.
Roethlisberger -- more accurately, wide receiver Santonio Holmes -- gave the Jaguars an early 7-0 lead on cornerback Rashean Mathis' 72-yard interception return for a touchdown. Holmes stumbled coming out of his break on an inside move, giving Mathis a clear shot at the pass.
The offense also stumbled for much of the second half after putting up 300 yards in the first two quarters and building a 20-14 lead. It didn't get out of its territory until the winning drive.
But what a winning drive it was.
What a way to go into the much-needed bye week.
"It's going to feel good," Roethlisberger said, "to get some time off."
First Published October 6, 2008 12:16 am