PITTSBURGH (AP)—The Steelers couldn’t have designed a more Pittsburgh-perfect day for an important December home game. They whipped up everything a warm-weather opponent wouldn’t want: snow, swirling winds, chilly temperatures and a marshy field.
Somehow, the weatherproof Jacksonville Jaguars shrugged off the bad weather and the Steelers, too, in a stadium where no opponent had won in a year.
Fred Taylor scored a decisive touchdown on a 12-yard run in the final two minutes while gaining 147 yards, and the Jaguars (10-4) withstood Pittsburgh’s fourth-quarter comeback for a 29-22 victory Sunday that put them on the verge of making the AFC playoffs.
“The outsiders didn’t believe we could come in here with the elements on the road, in a hostile territory against a team like Pittsburgh, and win the game,” said Taylor, who has 381 yards in his last two games in Pittsburgh. “We were the only ones that believed.”
The Steelers (9-5), previously 7-0 at home, were outgained 421-217 and outrushed 224-111 while falling into a tie with the Browns (9-5) for the AFC North lead after Cleveland beat Buffalo 8-0. Pittsburgh, which could have clinched the division, owns the tiebreaker going into its final two games: Thursday at St. Louis and Dec. 30 at Baltimore.
“The Jaguars are the Pittsburgh of the South,” said an admiring Willie Parker, who ran for 100 yards on only 14 carries. “The weather was kind of bad, and they came in like they’ve been playing in it for a while. We’ve got to use our weather to our advantage.”
The Steelers were down 22-7 after David Garrard threw three touchdown passes and looked beaten after getting nothing going offensively in the second half, only to tie it by scoring twice in 7 1/2 minutes with the help of two missed extra points by Jacksonville.
“Great comeback, a lot of heart, but a loss is a loss,” said Ben Roethlisberger, who shook off a sore shoulder and five sacks to throw three TD passes and repeatedly improvise for first downs on broken plays.
Anthony Smith’s 50-yard return of only the second interception thrown by Garrard in 307 attempts this season led to Roethlisberger’s 11-yard TD pass to Hines Ward. On Pittsburgh’s next possession, Roethlisberger threw a team-record 29th touchdown pass, a 30-yarder to Nate Washington. Wide receiver Cedrick Wilson’s 2-point conversion pass to Santonio Holmes on a gadget play tied it at 22 with less than six minutes remaining.
Instead of folding, Jacksonville came back with a 73-yard, eight-play drive ended by Taylor’s scoring run during his fourth consecutive 100-yard game. Taylor is averaging 121 yards in his last six against Pittsburgh, which lost to Jacksonville for the third consecutive season.
Taylor is the first opposing back to run for 100 yards in Pittsburgh since Cincinnati’s Rudi Johnson gained 123 yards on Oct. 3, 2004, a span of 30 games. Taylor hadn’t played there since running for a Steelers opponent’s record 234 yards in Three Rivers Stadium in 2000.
Pittsburgh’s last chance ended when tight end Heath Miller came a half-yard short of a first down on a fourth-and-7 play from the Jacksonville 45 in the final minute.
The Jaguars hadn’t played all season with a game-time temperature below 62 and, on a mostly miserable day, it was 35 degrees and dropping at the opening kickoff. An already soggy field was made even mushier by snow that fell immediately before the opening kickoff and again for most of the second half.
Only these Jaguars aren’t a typical warm-weather team. Coach Jack Del Rio has built a power-running squad that can pound out the tough yards in bad weather yet rarely turns over the ball. The Jaguars illustrated their versatility on their first two possessions of the second half.
“We know we have to play in this kind of weather in order to advance in the AFC tournament, so it was a good experience,” Del Rio said.
Jacksonville, leading 10-7 following Garrard’s 12-yard scoring pass to Ernest Wilford with about a minute left in the half, used up nearly 10 minutes during a 20-play, 74-yard drive finished off by Garrard’s 3-yard pass to Reggie Williams on third-and-goal.
The Jaguars were 0-for-6 on third downs in the first half. On this drive, they converted three times on third down—and twice on fourth-and-1.
After Pittsburgh went three-and-out, Garrard found Dennis Northcutt behind Smith on Jacksonville’s next play for a 55-yard touchdown that made it 22-7. However, the Jaguars missed the extra point on both scores, the first after holder Adam Podlesh bobbled a snap and the second when Josh Scobee missed into the wind.
This was the third consecutive game in inclement weather at Heinz Field, including tropical-like rain that fell throughout Pittsburgh’s 3-0 victory over Miami on Nov. 26 and left a newly sodded field nearly unplayable.
Steelers CB Ike Taylor left in the fourth quarter with an undisclosed injury. … The Steelers welcomed back S Troy Polamalu, who made a team-high 10 tackles following a three-week layoff with a knee injury. … Parker’s seven 100-yard games lead the NFL. … Garrard has 16 TD passes and two interceptions. … Tomlin failed to become only the third rookie coach to go 8-0 at home since the NFL adopted a 16-game schedule in 1978. … Pittsburgh hadn’t lost at home since a 31-7 defeat to Baltimore last Dec. 24. … Pittsburgh has lost two in a row and three of five. .. Terry Bradshaw previously held the Steelers’ record with 28 TD passes in 1978.