Dom’s Top 5 Games of All-Time: Steelers vs. Jaguars

4 of 5

2.  A.F.C. Wild Card

January 5, 2008

Steelers Sputter as Jaguars Win

Jaguars 31 – Steelers 29

There are four simple words when put together perfectly exemplify the Pittsburgh Steelers and the state of their team at the end of the 2007 regular season: “Limping To The Barn.”  Despite winning the A.F.C. North for the first time since 2007 and finishing with a 10-6 record, there wasn’t a whole hell of a lot of hope for the Steelers as they entered Wild Card Weekend for a home game against the red-hot Jacksonville Jaguars.  The Steelers had only beaten two teams and won three games over teams that had finished with a +.500 record that season.  Adding to the concern that their team just couldn’t cut the mustard in the postseason was evident for the following reasons: Pro Bowl RB and the N.F.L.’s leading rusher through Week 15 of the regular season Willie Parker was out with a broken fibula, Pro Bowl DE Aaron Smith had been out since the disaster at Foxborough and would not return the rest of the season, and most importantly they were playing a team that had beat them no more than 5 weeks prior on the same field.

I had visions of the Steelers traveling to Foxborough for the Divisional Round dancing in my head after Ben led the Offense on a 10 play 80 yard opening drive to put the Steelers ahead 7-0.  The drive was greatly helped by Hines Ward’s 31 yard catch and run (Ward would have 10 catches for 135 yards that night) that took the ball deep into Jacksonville territory.  When backup RB Najeh Davenport took the ball over for the 1 yard TD, I figured that the Steelers would go up and down the field on the upstarts from Jacksonville.  It was truly nice to see them laying the wood to a team that had traditionally given them fits.  Well, my optimism went out the window on the ensuing kickoff thanks to the Steelers’ traditionally pathetic kickoff coverage unit.

Maurice Jones-Drew took Skippy Reed’s kickoff almost all the way to the house.  Thankfully he was run out of bounds, but he was run out at the 1 yard line!  The Steelers’ Special Teams unit was pathetic that season, but that play by Jones-Drew really was the cherry on top of the crap sundae.  Garrard played it smartly and gave the ball to his Pro Bowl RB Fred Taylor (who only made the Pro Bowl because Parker was hurt) and finished the 1 yard drive with a 1 yard TD run and the game was tied at 7.

As the game moved into the 2nd Quarter both Defenses had settled down and waited for the other team to blink.  Luckily for Jacksonville, Ben Roethlisberger blinked first.  Ben moronically threw a pass that was INT’d by the Jags. Pro Bowl CB Rashean Mathis.  To add insult to injury, Mathis took the ball 63 yards back the other direction for a Jacksonville TD to make the game 14-7 in favor of the Jaguars!  Instead of responding like true champions, the Steelers further caved on their next drive and Roethlisberger threw another INT to Mathis!  Luckily for the Steelers, Mathis’ dreadlocks touched out of bounds and he was denied his second Pick-6 of the Quarter because he took the ball back for what looked like a score!  Jacksonville though was unfazed by the ball being brought back, and Garrard and the Jaguar Offense took advantage of the freebie.  Garrard dumped the ball off to Jones-Drew who promptly raced 43 yards for a TD!  Jacksonville had built a comfortable 21-7 lead.  For one final kick in the nuts, Ben threw a 3rd INT to DL Derek Landri at the Jacksonville 25 yard line when the Steelers looked to be trying to chip away at the 14 point lead built by Jacksonville.  All seemed lost, and all signs pointed to the Steelers being routed in the 2nd Half.

I was so livid at that point that I contemplated not watching the 2nd Half.  As a kid of the ’90’s that to this day despises the Jaguars, I felt almost as awful as I did watching New England and Denver spoil Steeler playoff hopes in years past.  Sadly for me I turned on the 2nd Half, and while things looked bright for a while, I wasn’t prepared to watch the utter and complete collapse that lied in store for us in Steeler Nation.

I for one do not know what was said at Half Time in the Steelers’ locker room, or who lit what fire under whose ass because the Steelers that emerged out of the tunnel in the 2nd Half were a much different team.  Steelers’ ILB James Farrior picked off Garrard around midfield on the Jaguars opening possession of the 2nd Half, and the Steelers parlayed the turnover into 3 points with a 28 yard Field Goal by Skippy Reed.  Down 21-10, the Steelers appeared to be back in the game.  David Garrard however didn’t feel the same way and shook off the INT.  Garrard led the Jaguars on an 8 play 82 yard drive that lasted almost 5 minutes where he scrambled and hit Ernest Wilford a couple of times before giving way to the running game.  Maurice Jones-Drew took the ball in for a TD from 10 yards out, and suddenly the Steelers were down 28-10 with just over a Quarter to play.

Ben and the Steelers wouldn’t quit that easily though.  After sustaining a drive that lasted through the 3rd Quarter, the Steelers started the 4th and final Quarter facing a 4th and 12 at the Jacksonville 37.  Ben called a patented Steeler Slant to WR Sansmokio Holmes who like he has done so many times in his career broke a tackle and raced for a TD!  Pittsburgh was only down 28-17 and you could see the crowd really getting back into the game at Heinz Field after that TD pass.

The crowd then got even more rowdy after the Steelers’ Defense forced a 3 and Out and the Offense took the field again.  Ben moved his boys 69 yards and capped off the drive with a 14 yard TD pass to Heath Miller (who had 8 grabs for 85 yards) to pull the Steelers within 28-23 with 10:34 to go in the game.  Then in a moment of complete and total carelessness the Coaching Staff decided to go for a 2 point conversion despite there being almost an entire Quarter to play.  Granted the play worked when Ben found Hines for the conversion, but a holding penalty on Center Sean Mahan negated the play and the Steelers tried again for the conversion, but failed.

Regardless the Steelers had the momentum, and on Jacksonville’s following possession I almost crapped my pants in disbelief.  Garrard who supposedly didn’t throw INT’s threw his second of the game.  The second one was picked off by none other than CB Ike Taylor who is not very well known for his hands!  Ike took the ball to the Jaguars’ 16 and Heinz Field from my television screen looked like a Madhouse in the best possible way.  Feeding off of the crowd and getting a pass interference call to go their way on 4th and 1, the Steelers scored the go-ahead TD on a 1 yard run by Najeh Davenport to go up 29-28 with just under 6 and a half minutes to play.  Since the Steelers had failed on their first ill-advised 2 point attempt they went for another one and missed again when Roethlisberger couldn’t hit Nate Washington and the score remained 29-28.

All the Steelers needed was one stop, and I figured the game was over.  I was so excited to see them come out with such intensity and stick it to such a cocky team like Jacksonville who was reeling after the Steelers’ 2nd Half surge of points.  With just under 4 minutes to play, then Rookie OLB LaMarr Woodley (who had a great game that night and had 2.0 sacks) sacked Garrard and forced the Jaguars to punt.  With 3:43 to go the Steelers just needed to get two First Downs and make Jacksonville use their 3 Time Outs and the game would be theirs.  Sadly their Offensive Coordinator was Bruce Arians, and Brucie played not to lose in the most gut-wrenching way possible.  After running Davenport on two plays that netted 4 yards, Jacksonville had only burned 1 Time Out.  On 3rd and 6 from their own 26 Arians dialed up one of the most awful play calls in team history that played right into the hands of the Jaguars!

For whatever ridiculous reason Arians decided to call a QB bootleg on 3rd and 6!  It wasn’t a pass option on the bootleg either, because I guess Arians in his infinite wisdom thought his 250 lb. QB could pick up a 3rd and Long on foot.  He didn’t even call a rollout to move the pocket and slash the Defense which had trouble the entire 2nd Half covering the Steelers’ pass catchers.  Arians had made numerous play-calling boners during the 2007 regular season, but after this one it was the final straw for me.  It was bad enough that he phased FB Dan Kreider and the FB position out of the Offense and essentially disposed of the power running game.  And at that time I thought: “Now this idiocy?”  You don’t play for the clock when you have a legitimate chance to win the game and the opposing Offense has a great Kicker and has enough time to get into Field Goal range.  It’s not a matter of strategy, it’s a matter of friggin’ logic!

After the punt, Jacksonville got the ball back with 2:38 to go at their own 49 yard line.  Garrard then went to work and on 4th and 2 from the Steelers’ 43 the play of the game was made.  Garrard took off on a run and wasn’t pulled down until he had made it all the way down to the Steeler 11 yard line.  The image of Tyrone Carter flailing and failing to catch the chunky Garrard is emblazoned into my brain and will never leave.  However, shit happens and Jacksonville sat on the ball and allowed Josh Scobee to nail a cake-easy 25 yard Field Goal to put Jacksonville in the lead 31-29.  The Steelers had a chance to drive down the field, but Ben was sacked and stripped and Jacksonville took over with almost no time left.

This was truly a game that the Steelers kinda deserved to lose no matter how hard they fought back.  Pittsburgh allowed a beatable team to come into their house, and despite the Steelers’ best efforts to come back, they allowed the visitors to escape with a win.  Yet what made the loss feel like a total round-house to the scrotum Swayze style was that the Steelers should have won the game in spite of how miserably they played.  In addition, I will always remember this game for the Coaching Staff’s complete and total ignorance of how 2 point conversion strategy works.  They had a whole Quarter to play, and granted hindsight is 20-20, but still logic says you don’t go for 2 unless it’s absolutely necessary.  But the thing I will most remember this game for is that Bruce Arians played not to lose.  The 3rd and 6 call in my opinion trumps any of the asinine ones he has made before or since.  To his credit, Arians learned from his mistakes, and went for the win against the Jets in last year’s A.F.C. Championship Game by rolling Ben out on pass plays that got the Offense the necessary 1st Downs to win the game for the Steelers