By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Steelers tallied 315 total yards in the first half and took a 17-3 lead, but they had just three first downs in the second half and had to hold on for a 17-13 win against the Jacksonville Jaguars Sunday at Heinz Field.
“It was great to get the win,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. “Not the kind of finish we were looking for, but obviously we’ll take it. … We acknowledge that we didn’t play our style of football in the second half.
“We didn’t get off the field enough on defense and gave them an extra possession on special teams with the roughing the punter, and we weren’t good enough on third down offensively to sustain drives. All that being said, it’s great to talk about all those things and learn from them after you’re successful.”
Tomlin referred to a play during Jacksonville’s first possession in the second half. After an 11-yard run on first down by Maurice Jones-Drew, the Steelers — aided by a Jags holding penalty — forced a punt from inside their 20. But with the block on, Steelers safety Ryan Mundy just missed the ball and caught punter Nick Harris’ plant foot for a 15-yard roughing penalty.
With renewed vigor, the Jaguars quickly moved down the field and scored a touchdown on an 18-yard pass from rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert to wideout Jason Hill. That cut the Steelers lead to 17-10 and made it a game. Tomlin said he understands that it can be deflating to a defense to have to return to the field after forcing a punt.
“That just gave us an opportunity to go out there and stop them again,” Steelers outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley said. “If you want to be a great defense, when plays happen like that to force us to go back on the field, then we have to go out there and shut them down. Instead, we allowed them to move the ball down the field to score.”
The Jaguars added a 45-yard field goal to get even closer, but the Steelers stopped their next two possessions on three-and-outs. The Steelers couldn’t do much, either, but on the final Jags possession Brett Keisel got the team’s fifth sack to basically end the game. Keisel had two sacks, and LaMarr Woodley also had two. James Farrior had the other sack for the Steelers.
“We got the win, so we’re happy about that,” Keisel said. “Onward and upward from here. Defensively, we got a couple big four-and-outs (with the punt), and I was able to get that sack toward the end. We ran a game, Lawrence Timmons and I ran it, and their tackle jumped out to block him.
“Then, I was able to get on his hip and make a play. (And) anytime you get a sack when its under two minutes and they don’t have any timeouts, it’s pretty devastating for an offense. So, that was it for them at that point.”
Rashard Mendenhall ran for 146 yards and one touchdown, including a 68-yard run to the 4 in the first half after missing last week with a hamstring injury. After a penalty gave the Steelers first-and-goal from the 2, they couldn’t gain an inch. Mendenhall was stopped for a loss, and two Ben Roethlisberger passes sailed incomplete through the end zone.
“We have to keep doing better in the run game, and I thought our line did a great job blocking today,” Mendenhall said. “But it’s tough not to get a touchdown when you have first down at the 2. We needed to get in there, and maybe the final result would have been different. You never know.
“But we also never thought it would be as close as it was, either. We knew they weren’t going to back down, but a touchdown there would have made it 21-0. Then, we miss a field goal after that, so you never know. But I felt pretty good out there after missing last week, no problems at all.”
Roethlisberger was 12-for-23 for 200 yards and a score. He was sacked just three times and didn’t throw an interception, but he connected on just 1 of 5 attempts for 19 yards in the second half. For every big play the Steelers made in the first half, they misfired in the second.
Speedster Mike Wallace caught a 48-yard pass from Roethlisberger and a beautiful 28-yarder for a touchdown, but four other times he was targeted that the two did not hook up.
“We just have to keep being consistent,” Wallace said. “If you get out to a 17-point lead and get comfortable, you take it off their throat. We have to keep the same intensity the whole game. We started out with a lot of intensity, and then we fell off a little bit.”
The Steelers visit Arizona next week before a tough two-game stretch at home against the New England Patriots and Baltimore Ravens.
Notes: Tomlin said that Doug Legursky has a dislocated toe of some kind. He was replaced by Trai Essex at left offensive guard. Chris Hoke had a stinger, and second-year player Steve McLendon played all the second half.
Ryan Clark had a shoulder problem, but returned late in the game. And Troy Polamalu went out with concussion-like symptoms after knifing through the line to stop Jones-Drew for no gain on third-and-one midway through the fourth quarter. Mundy replaced him at strong safety.