Steelers Notebook: Air attack blows up in second half wind
Steelers receiver Antonio Brown can't pull in a pass for a touchdown as he's defended by the Jaguars' Chris Prosinski in the second quarter Sunday at Heinz Field.
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Ben Roethlisberger threw for 181 yards and completed a 28-yard touchdown pass to Mike Wallace in the first half of Sunday's game against Jacksonville. His quarterback rating was 113.4 after the second quarter and he appeared to be well on his way to another sterling performance, one week after tossing five touchdown passes in a victory against the Titans.
In the third and fourth quarters, the Jaguars -- and the wind -- finally disrupted the Steelers' passing game. Roethlisberger completed just 1 of 5 passes in the third and fourth quarters, and the Steelers had to hold on for a 17-13 victory after being held off the scoreboard in the second half.
"We had other guys open," Roethlisberger said. "I just have to drive the ball. I have to make the necessary adjustments when the wind picks up, stop floating it and try to drive it through the wind.
"I never make excuses. When it's blowing, you have to put a lot of spin on the ball. I just wasn't doing that. It's something I can easily change."
Several of Roethlisberger's incomplete passes, including some in the first half, came with receivers open deep downfield. Roethlisberger, who said the Jaguars were taking away the underneath routes and daring him to throw deep, simply misfired.
"The wind most definitely was a factor, but we won't use that as an excuse at all," said Wallace, who did not catch a pass in the second half for the second consecutive week. "We just have to keep working at it. We'll get it. Unfortunately, we left about three touchdowns out there."
Roethlisberger's only completion of the second half came on the first drive. It was a 19-yarder to Hines Ward. On the next play, Roethlisberger missed a wide open Emmanuel Sanders, who had beaten his defender to the end zone.
Roethlisberger also missed Sanders on another deep pass in the first half and could not connect on a deep pass to Wallace in the second half.
"It was gusting pretty good," Roethlisberger said of the wind. "Dan [Sepulveda] said on the last punt he wanted to take off and run. He didn't even want to punt it. It was what it was. It was kind of Heinz Field. One series it blows one way, then it swirls on you. Like I said, no excuses. You have to drive the ball through the wind."
Safety Troy Polamalu left the game in the fourth quarter with concussion-like symptoms, but he is expected to be able to play this week against the Cardinals. Polamalu was injured while tackling Jacksonville running back Maurice Jones-Drew. He left the game and did not return. Ryan Mundy played the final minutes in his absence.
Polamalu was one of several Steelers to leave the game with injuries. Left guard Doug Legursky has a dislocated toe, nose tackle Chris Hoke a stinger and Ryan Clark a shoulder injury.
Trai Essex replaced Legursky for the remainder of the game and Steve McClendon took over for Hoke.
McClendon, a second-year player out of Troy University, started the season as the third-string nose tackle and played an average of 5 to 10 snaps a game. But with starting nose tackle Casey Hampton out of the lineup for a second consecutive week and Hoke leaving in the first half Sunday, McClendon received the most extensive playing time of his career.
"Like coach [Mike Tomlin] says, the standard is the standard," McClendon said. "He expects the next guy to play his best, to play great, to keep fighting. He expects those things. That's why he has those guys on his team. I got a lot of great guys around me. No matter what, we're going to play hard, fast, tough and smart. We're going to come out and fight. It was a tough win. It was tough for me because I was forced into action. I didn't have a backup. I had to stand up and rise."
The Jaguars rushed for 133 yards, including 75 in the second half.
"If I saw the starter was out, I'd have kept running too," McClendon said. "If you know we're limited to three or four guys, I'd keep running too. But one thing with a great defense is we rise to the occasions. We stopped them and made some plays."
While the Steelers could have put the game out of reach by hitting on some of their missed opportunities in the passing game, special teams played a role as the Jaguars put a scare into the Steelers.
Mundy was flagged for roughing the punter on fourth-and-21 early in the third quarter. Jacksonville scored a touchdown later on the drive to make the score 17-10.
"That roughing the punter probably took a little air out of us, in terms of giving them an extra possession," Tomlin said. "I acknowledge what that does to a defense when you get off and then you have to go back on. That's why you can't do that."
In the fourth quarter, a Sepulveda punt traveled just 23 yards to set the Jaguars up at their 48. They took advantage of the field position and kicked a 45-yard field goal to make it 17-13 with 4:17 remaining.
Last week, the Steelers had a punt blocked and allowed the Titans to recover an onside kick.
Jaguars linebacker Paul Posluszny had a big game in his team's loss Sunday. The Hopewell High School product had 16 tackles from his middle linebacker spot.
"It's always fun to come back here and play," Posluszny said. "I love being in Western Pennsylvania. I love being in front of my family and friends that I grew up with. It's fun to come back here. Unfortunately, I don't have very much luck here playing as a pro at Heinz Field."
Posluszny, drafted out of Penn State by Buffalo in the second round in 2007, played as a rookie that season in the Bills 26-3 loss to the Steelers at Heinz. Sunday's loss makes him 0-2 here.
It is his first year with the Jaguars, who signed him to a 6-year, $45 million deal in the offseason. While he enjoyed his four seasons in Buffalo, he said this is the right fit for him now.
"They [Buffalo] are doing great," he said. "The thing about it was that they always had talent up there. It was difficult to leave. Jacksonville, I could just tell they wanted me a lot more. I wanted to be a part of this team and this organization."
Jones-Drew was the big offensive weapon for Jacksonville. Jones-Drew, who ran for 1,324 yards last season despite missing two games with a knee injury, rushed for 96 yards on 22 carries against the Steelers. While those aren't remarkable statistics, consider the Jaguars started two rookies on the left side of the offensive line due to injuries to guard Will Rackley and tackle Cameron Bradfield.
"We had two rookies on the left side and they did a great job against a tough defense," Jones-Drew said. "We just have to keep executing at a higher level."
The Jaguars are 1-5 after five consecutive losses. Jones-Drew said if they want to get back to winning, the offense needs to play a complete game.
"As an offense, we have to get going faster," he said. "We can't wait until the second half and when we're in the hurry-up offense to get going."
The Jaguars had 209 yards of total offense Sunday, 141 of those coming in the second half.
• Ward continued his ascent up the NFL record books against the Jaguars. Ward passed Hall of Famer Michael Irvin for 19th place on the league's all-time receiving list. Ward has 11,939 yards.
• Roethlisberger has thrown for 200 yards in six consecutive games. It's the second time in his career that he has thrown for 200 or more in the first six games of a season. He also did it in 2009.
• Tomlin has the third-most victories for a Steelers head coach with 53. He passed Buddy Parker, who had 52 from 1957-64. Ahead of him are Chuck Noll (209) and Bill Cowher (161).
• Mendenhall's 146 yards marked the fourth-highest single-game rushing performance of his career. Mendenhall's 8-yard touchdown run was the 23rd of his career, tying him with Rocky Bleier for ninth-most in franchise history.
• The Steelers improved to 17-1 when Hoke starts at nose tackle.
• The Steelers had four sacks in the first half, the first time since November 2008 that they had four sacks in a half.
Correction/Clarification: (Published October 18, 2011) Two rookies, Will Rackley and Cameron Bradfield, started at guard and tackle, respectively, for Jacksonville Sunday against the Steelers. A story Monday said they had been replaced by two rookie starters.
First Published October 17, 2011 12:00 am