By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH — After a one-game absence due to an injury, Pittsburgh Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall ran for 146 yards and one touchdown and the defense tallied five sacks to help them hold on for a 17-13 win against the Jacksonville Jaguars Sunday afternoon at Heinz Field.
The Steelers needed just 10 plays and 5:57 to traverse 87 yards for the opening touchdown. Mendenhall, making a return to the starting lineup after missing one game with a hamstring injury, ran six times for 24 yards with the final eight going for the touchdown. Isaac Redman, last week’s starter for Mendenhall, plowed 11 yards on third-and-one to keep the drive alive.
And quarterback Ben Roethlisberger hooked up with tight end Heath Miller for 13 and Emmanuel Sanders for 32 on third-and-three to move the ball into the red zone. Roethlisberger also was sharp in the club’s second possession, which resulted in an eight-play, 72-yard touchdown drive in 4:15. Roethlisberger capped the drive with a 28-yard scoring pass to Mike Wallace.
He also found veteran Hines Ward for two first-down catches. The first, which went for 19, moved Ward into 19th place in NFL history with 11,911 receiving yards. He surpassed Hall-of-Famer Michael Irvin. Ward also caught a nine-yard pass in the drive for a first down.
The possession was marred by a left foot injury to left offensive guard Doug Legursky, who was starting for Chris Kemoeatu (left knee) for the second straight week. Legursky was taken off the field in a cart, and his return is questionable. Veteran Trai Essex replaced Legursky as the Steelers’ left guard.
Nose tackle Chris Hoke also left the game a short time later with a stinger, and he was replaced by second-year player Steve McLendon. Hoke, who is 16-1 as a starter, opened the game for Casey Hampton (shoulder injury).
The Steelers’ nemesis bit them during their third possession. No, not Jaguars cornerback Rashean Mathis, who has six interceptions against the club. But he had a part in the drive. Mendenhall ripped off a 68-yard run from the Steelers’ 28 to the 4, and in the process Mathis got a facemask call.
That put the ball on the 2, but they couldn’t gain an inch with a one-yard loss for Mendenhall and two incomplete passes, including over the head of an open Antonio Brown. Shaun Suisham kicked a 21-yard field goal to give the Steelers a 17-0 lead. He also missed from 46 yards out into the open end of the field.
Woodley’s second sack of the game thwarted a possible Jacksonville touchdown drive and forced a 46-yard field goal by Josh Scobee to make it 17-3. Brett Keisel also had a sack and pass breakup in his second game back from a knee injury that cost him two games. Linebacker James Farrior also had a good defensive half with a sack and pass breakup for the Steelers.
The Jaguars threatened to make a game of it with an amazing 17-play, 80-yard scoring drive in 9:35 to cut the Steelers’ lead to 17-10 with 1:46 remaining in the third quarter. The Steelers stopped them once, but Ryan Mundy’s roughing penalty against punter moved the Jaguars out of danger and kept the drive alive. Also, there were several near misses on sacks, and Woodley got into a scuffle with fullback Greg Jones in pass-blocking mode.
The Jags added another Scobee field goal from 45 yards out with 4:17 left, to make it 17-13, as the Steelers continued to implode in the second half. They got one first down in each of their opening two series in the second half and then had two three-and-outs going into their final possession.
After two Mendenhall runs for four yards each, Roethlisberger scrambled for three yards and a first down with 2:31 remaining to basically seal the victory. They punted four downs later, but the Jags only had 1:01 to drive 77 yards and they couldn’t do it. Keisel got his second sack in the series.
Notes: Safety Troy Polamalu left the game in the 4th quarter with concussion like symptoms.