Jaguars, Taylor run to win on wintry day
The Jaguars' Fred Taylor walks into the end zone for the winning touchdown late in the fourth quarter against the Steelers yesterday at Heinz Field. (vs. Jaguars 12/16/2007)
Jaguars running back Fred Taylor picks up a first down against the Steelers in the second half. (vs. Jaguars 12/16/2007)
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Steelers football returned to Heinz Field yesterday. They ran the ball and imposed their will on the opponent, used play-fakes to their advantage, kept the ball interminably, protected their quarterback and put a beating on the other quarterback.
And they won a game with a late touchdown drive near the end.
But it wasn't the Steelers doing that; it was the visiting Jacksonville Jaguars, who looked more like a team wearing black and gold than the home club.
Fred Taylor ran for 147 of Jacksonville's 224 yards as the Jaguars ran out to a big lead and pulled it out at the end after a furious fourth-quarter Steelers comeback.
The final was 29-22 after Taylor's 12-yard touchdown run broke a tie with 1:57 left, capping yet another winning drive against the Steelers defense.
Their second loss in a row dropped the Steelers into a tie with Cleveland atop the AFC North Division at 9-5 with two games left. Jacksonville improved its wild-card playoff hopes at 10-4.
"They played our type of ball. That's exactly how we play," said halfback Willie Parker, who had 100 yards rushing.
"They really took it to us," linebacker James Farrior said. "It was bad."
The NFL's top-ranked defense yielded 421 total yards, the same amount the unbeaten New England Patriots piled up against them the previous week. The Jaguars, though, preferred to do it more behind Taylor, who carried 25 times while amassing more yards than any previous opponent in Heinz Field's seven-year history. He has opponent records for Heinz Field and Three Rivers Stadium (234 in 2000). Maurice Jones-Drew ran 12 times for another 69.
"I don't think we ever gave up that amount of rushing yards at home or on the road since I've been here," linebacker Larry Foote said, correctly. The Jaguars became the first opponent to top 200 yards rushing in Heinz Field.
Ben Roethlisberger threw three touchdown passes to Hines Ward, Heath Miller and Nate Washington to pass Terry Bradshaw's season record with his 29th. Still, Roethlisberger was sacked five times and completed 16 of 33 for 146 yards on a snowy, windy afternoon.
At least three of his passes were dropped.
"Obviously, the elements had a big part in that because those aren't drops that usually happen," Roethlisberger said.
The Jaguars jumped in front, 22-7, in the third quarter and if it weren't for two missed extra-point kicks, the Steelers never would have tied it with their two fourth-quarter touchdowns.
To that point, all the Steelers could muster was Roethlisberger's 18-yard touchdown pass to Miller that gave the home team a 7-3 lead early in the second quarter.
Jacksonville, which took an early 3-0 lead on Josh Scobee's 36-yard field goal, erased the Steelers' brief advantage when first-year starter David Garrard (17 of 33, 197 yards) faked a handoff that caught the Steelers flat-footed and threw a 12-yard pass to wide-open Ernest Wilford in the end zone.
"We knew they were going to run the ball and do play-action, and that's what they did," cornerback Deshea Townsend said.
Jacksonville consumed the third quarter by keeping the ball nearly 12 minutes and scoring two touchdowns. Garrard threw a 3-yard touchdown pass to Reggie Williams that ended a 20-play drive that covered 9:40 and 74 yards.
His next pass also went into the end zone -- Dennis Northcutt beat safety Anthony Smith deep to catch a 55-yard touchdown strike to start and end the Jaguars' next series for a 22-7 lead.
Heinz Field, where the Steelers had won their previous seven games this season, grew so quiet you could hear the snow fall.
But the Steelers were only two scores down because the Jaguars missed both extra-point tries in the third quarter. Holder Adam Podlesh could not handle the snap on the first and the kick never got off. On the next try, Scobee duck-hooked it wide.
The Steelers needed a big break and it came from a most unusual source -- an interception. Smith picked off an overthrown Garrard pass early in the fourth quarter, only the ninth interception by the Steelers in 2007. He returned it 50 yards to the 12.
"I think it gave us some momentum," Smith said of his second interception, tying for the team lead, "because we were down and needed to get the ball back. It helped us out a lot."
Three plays later, Roethlisberger threw his second touchdown pass for 11 yards to Ward.
The Steelers scored again on their next drive when Roethlisberger hit Nate Washington deep in the end zone for a 30-yard touchdown. Down by two, they tied it when Roethlisberger flipped the ball back to receiver Cedrick Wilson, who threw hard over the middle of the end zone, where Santonio Holmes caught it for the conversion.
The stadium rocked because Roethlisberger has done this before. His 13 game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime since he entered the league in 2004 are the most of any quarterback during that span.
He looked poised for No. 14, which would have clinched a playoff spot for the Steelers, and optimism surged through his teammates with 5:46 to go.
"Oh, yeah. The crowd got into it. We were pumped up," Foote said.
"Momentum was definitely on our side," Ward said.
And then ...
"They kept whupping our butt," Foote said.
The top-ranked defense was about to allow a third game-losing drive near the end. The Jaguars took eight plays to cover 73 yards, the big one a 20-yard run to the 12 on a Jones-Drew delay on third-and-11. Taylor then ran around the right end for the winning touchdown.
Roethlisberger moved his team to Jacksonville's 45 on his next series but a 6-yard pass on fourth down came up a tad short despite Miller's leap for the sticks.
"We are not playing well enough to win right now," an admittedly angry coach Mike Tomlin said. "That is the reality of it. We can't look to anyone else to solve our problems."
The Steelers don't have much time to solve anything because they play again on the road -- where they are 2-4 -- Thursday night in St. Louis.
"Just win," Foote gave as the remedy to their troubles. "Stop all the talking and worrying about Cleveland and the playoffs. We just have to win, because today we didn't have it."
First Published December 17, 2007 12:00 am