Steelers hold off pesky Jaguars, 17-13
PITTSBURGH (AP) — One good half is all it took for the Pittsburgh Steelers to continue their mastery of the woeful AFC South.
If the defending AFC champions want to make inroads on the rest of the conference, they'll have to pick it up considerably.
Rashard Mendenhall ran for a season-high 146 yards and a touchdown and the Steelers narrowly avoided a second-half collapse in a 17-13 over Jacksonville on Sunday.
Ben Roethlisberger passed for 200 yards and a score for Pittsburgh (4-2), which won for the fourth time in five games.
Three of those victories came during a four-week stretch against AFC South clubs, a scheduling quirk that seemed to leave the Steelers bored at times.
They certainly looked it during a sluggish second half in which the offense stalled and the defense had trouble keeping the Jaguars off the field. That defense also lost All-Pro safety Troy Polamalu late in the game with concussion-like symptoms.
Maurice Jones-Drew rushed for 96 yards for Jacksonville (1-5), which has dropped five straight to match the franchise's longest losing streak in a decade.
Jacksonville rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert remained winless as a starter, completing 12 of 26 passes for 109 yards and a touchdown on the day after his 22nd birthday. Gabbert's heave into the end zone on the game's final play was knocked down by Pittsburgh's William Gay.
The last-gasp attempt appeared to be a long shot after the Steelers rolled to a 17-0 lead, but Pittsburgh struggled before putting Jacksonville away.
Gabbert found Jason Hill for an 18-yard score in the third quarter to pull Jacksonville within a touchdown and Josh Scobee's 45-yard field goal with 4:17 to play brought the Jaguars within four.
Pittsburgh converted a third down to force Jacksonville to burn its two remain timeouts, but Roethlisberger was sacked on third down and Jacksonville got it at its own 23 with 1:01 remaining.
Gabbert overcame a first-down sack — Pittsburgh's fifth of the game — to get the ball to the Pittsburgh 48 with 2 seconds left before his Hail Mary came nowhere close to being answered.
The victory allowed Pittsburgh to gain some momentum heading into a pivotal stretch that includes games against New England and Baltimore.
Yet there's plenty to work on. The offense managed just 70 yards in the second half, with Roethlisberger completing just one pass while getting sacked three times.
The defense had its issues too, allowing the Jaguars — who entered the game last in the league in total offense and 31st in scoring — to control the ball for long stretches.
It just wasn't quite enough for the Jaguars to duplicate their stunning upset in their last visit to Heinz Field in the 2007 divisional playoffs. Jacksonville won 31-29, a victory that served as the apex of coach Jack Del Rio's tenure. The franchise has been in steady decline since, going 21-33 in the interim while the Steelers have won a Super Bowl and gone to another.
For the first half, it appeared both trends would continue.
The Steelers sacked Gabbert four times, taking advantage of a shuffled offensive featuring rookies Cameron Bradfield and Will Rackley on the left side. Rackley was thrust into the lineup at left guard after starter Eben Britton was placed on the inactive list when his back locked up early Sunday.
Mendenhall, who sat out last week's romp over Tennessee with a hamstring injury, ripped off a career-best 68-yard run, part of a half in which the Steelers rolled up 315 yards of total offense.
Roethlisberger had all the time he needed to find Mike Wallace for a 28-yard touchdown and the Steelers appeared on their way to a romp similar to the 38-17 drubbing of the Titans.
It never happened.
Jacksonville found its footing behind Jones-Drew and the Jacksonville's defense disrupted Roethlisberger's timing to provide a more interesting ending than either team envisioned.