Jaguars fall just short in 17-13 loss to Steelers
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.