With Keydrick Vincent and Chukky Okobi in for injured offensive linemen, the Steelers ran for over 200 yards. Jerome Bettis had 86 yards on just 20 carries while QB Kordell Stewart chipped in with 84 yards, including a 28-yard TD scamper. Despite opening the game with the pass, most notably a beautiful 55-yard toss from a pressured Stewart to a streaking Plaxico Burress down the sideline, the Steelers ran the ball almost at will throughout the game.
The Pittsburgh Steelers sat on the ball for almost 39 minutes, while the Jacksonville Jaguars struggled to get anything going. QB Mark Brunell was pressured all day, though he did manage 2 touchdown passes. Brunell was sacked three times, once by LB Kendrell Bell coming up the middle like he was shot out of a cannon, and managed just 124 yards through the air on 12 of 23 passing.
The Steelers blitzed Brunell often as the Jaguars patchwork offensive line often failed to pick up the rush. Save a few defensive breakdowns, the Steelers dominated the battle in the trenches and stuffed Jacksonville, who converted just 3 of 11 on third down.
The Steelers were not much better on third down and struggled in the red zone. Pittsburgh, with Stewart at the helm, looked just like last year's team. They racked up plenty of yards but failed to score touchdowns. Luckily, newcomer Jeff Reed saved the day going 6 for 6, two from beyond 45 yards. Even Tom Coughlin seemed stunned by the last one that was from 50 yards and proved to be the difference.
Coach Coughlin had Reed come in for a tryout this season but decided not to sign him. Reed certainly gave a wonderful second audition.
The game might not have been that close if Spike decided to play (his stone hands, or should I say, stone chest, caused the interception) and the refs did not gang up on the Steelers. The strangest call came on a play when James Farrior stripped the ball free and Joey Porter picked up the apparent fumble. The refs held a conference and decided that RB Fred Taylor's progress had been halted and blew the first retroactive whistle in NFL history. The refs blew another call late in the game, calling the Steelers off sides on the first onsides attempt by Jacksonville.
No matter, Hines Ward recovered both kicks anyway and his toughness was contagious today. This was after the Jaguars did make things interesting with a last minute touchdown, but DeWayne Washington's break up of the the two-point coversion attempt denied the tie. The Steelers played their most physical game of the season and at the right time
At 7-4-1, the Steelers playoff hopes look strong and the magic number to clinching the AFC North is now just three games (any combination of Steelers wins and Ravens or Browns losses that add up to three). Next week the Steelers host the Houston Texans and have 3 of their next four games at home.