Steelers 17, Jaguars 13

Blaine Gabbert keeps showing the Jacksonville Jaguars why he’s

their quarterback of the future.

The present remains painful.

A day after his 22nd birthday, Gabbert shook off five sacks to

lead struggling Jacksonville within a desperation pass of a

stunning upset over the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday.

Yet Gabbert’s heave, like the last five Sundays for the Jaguars,

came up empty in a 17-13 loss.

”We had an opportunity to win the football game at the end and

we had to capitalize on the opportunity,” Gabbert said.

Jacksonville (1-5) dropped its fifth straight, matching the

franchise’s longest losing streak in a decade. Yet there were

plenty of signs the Jaguars are close to breaking through.

The defense limited the Steelers (4-2) to 70 yards in the second

half. The jumbled offensive line that featured rookies Cameron

Bradfield and Will Rackley on the left side shored up itself after

halftime and Gabbert continued to come of age.

”I told our guys we are not into moral victories, but I know

one thing, if you let go of the rope you have no chance,” coach

Jack Del Rio said. ”As a football team, we are doing the right

things, preparing the right way, working our butts off.”

The Jaguars just aren’t winning.

”We’re doing some good things, but we’re not doing enough to

finish the deal,” wide receiver Mike Thomas said. ”The first half

was kind of rough on both sides, but (playing better) was a little

too late.”

Maurice Jones-Drew rushed for 96 yards for Jacksonville, which

couldn’t quite duplicate the 31-29 upset it pulled off on its last

visit to Heinz Field in the 2007 divisional playoffs.

Only six current Jaguars remain from that year, when Gabbert was

still in high school.

He’s the linchpin of the franchise now, and had a couple of

chances to tie or win the game in the closing moments.

Jacksonville trailed 17-10 midway through the fourth quarter

when it drove to the Pittsburgh 27. The Jaguars appeared ready to

go for it on fourth-and-6, but Gabbert called timeout instead.

”We went out for the look to take our shot there (and) didn’t

like the play,” Del Rio said. ”Blaine did a good job of not

forcing it.”

Josh Scobee drilled a 45-yard field goal to get the Jaguars

within four. Pittsburgh converted one first down, but couldn’t get

a second, and Jacksonville had one more shot.

Gabbert was drilled on first down by Pittsburgh’s Brett Keisel,

but popped up and eventually got the ball to the Pittsburgh 48 with

2 seconds remaining. His final pass came nowhere close to a

teammate and he finished 12 of 26 for 109 yards and a

touchdown.

”We just haven’t executed enough to win games yet as an

offense,” Jones-Drew said. ”We’re moving the ball against these

tough defenses. We just have to finish drives, and that’s what we

have to keep working on.”

They aren’t the only ones.

The Steelers spent 30 minutes reminding the Jaguars why they’re

the defending AFC champions, then spent 30 minutes reminding the

rest of the NFL why they’re so vulnerable.

”We didn’t play the style of football that we like to play in

the second half,” coach Mike Tomlin said.

Not exactly the confidence builder Pittsburgh was looking for

heading into the meat of its schedule following a four-game tour

through the AFC South. Making matters worse, the team removed

All-Pro safety Troy Polamalu from the game in the fourth quarter

after experiencing what Tomlin called ”concussion-like

symptoms.”

Another mixed bag from the Steelers, who struggled to put

consecutive solid performances together.

”We just have to be consistent,” wide receiver Hines Ward

said. ”We are not doing it on a consistent level yet. But we’re

getting there.”

Running back Rashard Mendenhall ran for a season-high 146 yards

and a touchdown a week after sitting out a 38-17 romp over

Tennessee with a balky hamstring.

Reserves Jonathan Dwyer and Issac Redman played so well in

Mendenhall’s absence, Tomlin said he’d likely split carries this

week. Mendenhall, however, reminded Tomlin why he’s topped 1,000

yards each of the last two seasons, rolling up 146 yards and a

touchdown while running with a purpose.

Criticized for dancing too much at times, Mendenhall ripped off

a career-best 68-yard run in the second quarter, part of an

dominant half in which Pittsburgh outgained the Jaguars 315-68.

”We felt like we could have had a very explosive, productive

day offensively, running and throwing the ball,” quarterback Ben

Roethlisberger said. ”It’s frustrating it didn’t finish up that

way.”

Roethlisberger passed 200 yards and a touchdown, but completed

just one pass in the second half while getting sacked three

times.

”(We) just played sloppy at first and then we made up our

minds, settled down and stopped them,” Jacksonville defensive end

Jeremy Mincey said.

Notes: Ward caught three passes for 47 yards to move past

Michael Irvin and into 19th place on the yards receiving list. Ward

now has 11,939 yards. … New Jacksonville punter Nick Harris,

signed last week, averaged 42.3 yards on seven punts. … Scobee’s

two field goals gave him field goals in 14 straight games, a team

record. … Pittsburgh G Doug Legursky left in the second quarter

with a dislocated toe.