By Teresa Varley
The Steelers season came to a disappointing end when they lost to the Jacksonville Jaguars 31-29 in an AFC Wild Card game at Heinz Field.
The Steelers made a valiant comeback attempt, scoring three fourth quarter touchdowns, but a late field goal by the Jaguars gave them the victory.
The Steelers were down 28-10 when Ben Roethlisberger took control, throwing touchdown passes to Santonio Holmes and Heath Miller. Najeh Davenport added a one-yard score.
But a huge fourth down conversion by Jaguars quarterback David Garrard put them in scoring position and Josh Scobee made it count with a 25-yard field goal for the win.
"That has been our story here as of late. We like the way we fight, but we don't execute well enough early on," said head coach Mike Tomlin. "We felt good about the way we started the game. We marched down and we talked about that all week offensively - starting fast, sending a message and putting ourselves in a position to control the clock and win the time of possession. We put together a nice drive and scored and they answered with a kickoff return. It was zero to zero at that point. That has been a struggle of ours and it cost us. It cost us tonight."
Roethlisberger completed 29 of 42 passes for 337 yards, but was intercepted three times and under extreme pressure all night while being sacked six times. Hines Ward had 10 receptions for 135 yards, while Miller added eight catches for 85 yards.
The Jaguars did damage on the ground against the Steelers in their earlier meeting in December, but Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew were held to a combined 77 yards while Garrard was their leading rushing with 58 yards. Garrard completed just nine of 21 pass attempts for 140 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.
"Needless to say, there is a bunch of disappointment that this season came to an end tonight," said Tomlin. "I am disappointed for those guys. I am disappointed because we don't get a chance to go back and do it again. This group will always be special to me. It will. There is no denying that. I am disappointed that we weren't able to deliver for our fans tonight."
The Steelers came out firing to open the game. With an empty backfield on the second play of the game Roethlisberger hit Miller for a six-yard gain. On third-and-four Ward came across the middle and pulled in fill stride pulled in a 31-yard reception.
Roethlisberger was sacked for a six-yard loss on the next play, but Jaguars defensive tackle John Henderson was called for a 15-yard penalty for a horse collar tackle on him. Ward pulled in a five-yard reception in the flat and came back with an 11-yard catch along the right sideline. Davenport got the call and powered up the middle for a 10-yard gain to the Jaguars eight-yard line. Tight end Matt Spaeth pulled in a seven-yard reception to get the Steelers to the one. Davenport punched it into the end zone to give the Steelers the 7-0 lead.
But it wouldn't last long. Jones-Drew fielded the ensuring kickoff at the Jacksonville three-yard line and returned it 96 yards to the one-yard, going untouched through the Steelers coverage. Taylor tied the game at 7-7 one play later with a one-yard carry for the score.
The Steelers moved the chains on their next drive when rookie Gary Russell caught a six-yard pass, but they weren't able to sustain it for long. Davenport was knocked for a two-yard loss to set up third-and-seven and Roethlisberger was forced to scramble, coming up short with just a four-yard gain.
A strong defensive stand by the Steelers on the next drive, with Brett Keisel shutting the door by batting down a Garrard pass, forced the Jaguars to punt.
It was back to the air for the Steelers with Roethlisberger avoiding intense pressure to complete a 13-yard pass to Miller. They came up empty on a deep ball to Holmes and Russell had a two-yard carry giving the Steelers a third down. This time Roethlisberger wasn't able to escape the pressure with Paul Spicer flying in for a 10-yard sack.
Rookie LaMarr Woodley gave the defense a boost when he sacked Garrard for a 13-yard loss. They kept moving backwards when Keisel and James Harrison hit Taylor for a two-yard loss. On third-and-25 Garrard hit Reggie Williams for a 15-yard gain, but it wasn't enough and they were forced to punt after a quick three-and-out.
Ward came up with a huge play for the offense when a pass intended for Miller went through his hands and Ward pulled it in for a 33-yard reception. But the glow of that play would fade fast when Mathis intercepted Roethlisberger on the next play and returned it 63-yards for a touchdown to give Jacksonville a 14-7 lead.
The offense continued to struggle on the next drive when Mathis came up with his second interception of he game at the Steelers 47-yard line. He returned it 26 yards to the 21-yard line, but the Steelers challenged it and Mathis was ruled down by contact at the spot of the interception.
It wouldn't take long for the Jaguars to cash in on the turnover. Garrard hit Jones-Drew who got away from multiple Steelers defenders for a 43-yard touchdown and 21-7 lead over the black and gold.
Things got worse for the offense on their next drive as they lost yardage on all three plays, including two Roethlisberger sacks.
The Steelers caught a break on the next series when they were able to stop Jacksonville and Scobee's 46-yard field goal attempt went wide right.
The offense got going with a five-yard completion to Miller and eight-yard grab by Nate Washington. Roethlisberger scrambled up the middle for a six-yard gain to the Jaguars six-yard line. Roethlisberger went to Holmes who appeared to make the 17-yard reception, but after an official review it was ruled incomplete. An undaunted Roethlisberger hit Davenport, who made some shifty moves for an 18-yard completion to the Jaguars 27-yard line. But it would b e for not as Roethlisberger was intercepted by defensive tackle Derek Landri at the Jaguars 25-yard line.
Things turned in the Steelers favor at the start of the second half when James Farrior intercepted Garrard at the Jaguars 43-yard line. Roethlisberger got back to form with a 13-yard completion to Miller and a 14-yard strike to Holmes. Two short gains by Davenport and a loss by Holmes forced the Steelers to go for a field goal, with Jeff Reed hitting from 28 yards out to cut the lead to 21-10.
It didn't take long for the Jaguars to grab control again. Starting at their own 18-yard line they marched down the field, with Garrard converting a huge third down early on by scrambling for 12 yards. The Steelers got to Garrard for a five-yard sack, which would have given the Jaguars a third-and-12. But Ike Taylor was called for a 15-yard face mask, giving the Jaguars a first down. Garrard went to work with consecutive completions to Ernest Wilford for 20 and 19 yards. Jones-Drew capped the drive by going untouched into the end zone for a 10-yard score and a 28-10 lead.
Once again the Steelers were able to get rolling with completions to Ward and Miller, but the Jaguars continued to get to Roethlisberger sacking him for a 10-yard loss. On fourth-and-12 Roethlisberger hit Holmes, who caught it short of the first down, but got free and took it 37 yards for the touchdown to close the gap to 28-17.
The defense came up big on the next drive, bringing pressure on Garrard to force two incomplete passes. On third down, Harrison and Farrior got to Garrard for a 12-yard sack to end their drive and put the ball back in the hands of the Steelers offense.
Roethlisberger went to Ward who made nice moves on two receptions, one for 12 yards and a seven-yard catch that he took to mid-field. Justin Durant broke-up a pass intended for Washington, setting up third-and-three. It was the reliable Ward who came through with a six-yard grab for the first down. Roethlisberger went for broke on the next play, but the long ball to Washington was incomplete in the end zone. Miller broke tackles on a 16-yard reception to the Jaguars 28-yard line. Davenport went up the middle for a four-yard gain and Cedrick Wilson added a 10-yard reception. It was back to Miller who pulled in the 14-yard touchdown. Sean Mahan was called for holding on the first two-point conversion attempt, and Roethlisberger's rushing attempt failed on the next, as the Steelers pulled to within five at 28-23.
The momentum continued to swing in the Steelers favor when Ike Taylor intercepted Garrard at the Jaguars 47-yard line and returned it 31 yards to the 16-yard line. Roethlisberger hit Carey Davis for an eight-yard gain and Davenport went off left tackle for one-yard. Roethlisberger took it himself on the quarterback sneak two-yards and the first down. Ward got them to the one-yard line with a four-yard reception. Two incomplete passes gave the Steelers fourth down from the one-yard line, where Brian Williams was called for defensive pass interference and a new set of downs. Davenport took it up the middle for the one-yard touchdown, giving them their first lead since the opening drive, 29-28, after a failed two-point conversion.
A fired-up defense came up with another stop, forcing Jacksonville to punt and putting the Steelers in control of the clock with 3:43 on the clock. The Jaguars were able to come up big on defense as well by stopping the Steelers and getting the ball right back.
The defense was strong again, but on fourth down Garrard scrambled and broke loose for a 32-yard gain to the 11-yard line. Scobee hit a 25-yard field goal to give Jacksonville the 31-29 win.