It was good enough this time. It was good enough against a Jacksonville team with a rookie quarterback and a receiving corps lacking a dynamic playmaker, with rookies manning the left side of its offensive line, with a defense that may be better than last year's version but still a unit that arrived having allowed 23 points per game.
It was good enough. Barely.
The Steelers need not apologize for their 17-13 win over the Jaguars last Sunday at Heinz Field, but to quote their former coach who's now an NFL analyst for CBS, "It was no Mozart."
Everything seemed to be working in perfect harmony for the home team when the game began. The Jaguars took the opening kickoff and after making a few first downs, LaMarr Woodley and then Ike Taylor made consecutive individual defensive plays that summoned Jacksonville punter Nick Harris for the first of his seven appearances on the afternoon.
Ten plays later, and the ball was in the end zone via an 8-yard run by Rashard Mendenhall. Then came a three-and-out and another punt by Harris, and eight plays later the ball was in the end zone again, this time thanks to a 28-yard hookup between Ben Roethlisberger and Mike Wallace. Seventy-one seconds later, the Steelers had the ball following yet another punt by Harris, and 34 seconds after that they were lining up for a first-and-goal at the Jaguars 2-yard line after Mendenhall burst through the middle and raced down the left sideline for a 68-yard gain.
Inexplicably, that's when it all started to unravel for the Steelers, or at least that's when it stopped being a black-and-gold clinic. There would be no touchdown this time, and after Shaun Suisham finished with the 21-yard field goal that made it 17-0, there would be no more points for the Steelers either.
It's most likely overly magnanimous to claim that this red zone failure inspired the Jaguars to start playing like a competitive professional football team, and besides what it really looked like was that the Steelers stopped doing anything right.
Suddenly there were mistakes where there previously had been none. Penalties, missed tackles, missed blocks, missed receivers, missed field goals.
This kind of collective incompetence is only grist for the talk shows when it comes against these Jaguars, but in a couple of weeks the degree of difficulty rises exponentially when New England and then the Baltimore Ravens arrive here for a fortnight of football figuring to define the 2011 Steelers once and for all.
Six games into the 2011 season, the Steelers have a 4-2 record, and if they have a characteristic so far it's that they are a sometimes team. There is not a phase of the game in which they cannot or have not excelled, but it's only sometimes.
Sometimes was good enough this time. Sometimes might even bring them back from Arizona on a three-game winning streak. But after that, the only thing that sometimes will do for them is get them beat.
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