Steelers not apologizing for sluggish play
The Pittsburgh Steelers cautioned each other about a let down after rolling to halftime with a commanding 14-point lead over Jacksonville on Sunday.
It happened anyway.
Though the Steelers hung on for a 17-13 win, their inability to move the ball on offense and get off the field on defense in the second half continued a troubling trend for a club that considers itself one of the AFC's elite.
Managing one half of good football is easy. Two is a problem.
Though Pittsburgh (4-2) has won four of five, it has only dominated in spurts. The first half against the Jaguars, Seahawks and Titans. The first quarter against Indianapolis.
Good enough to win against the league's also-rans. The Steelers know it's not good enough to get them where they want to go.
''Maybe I need to keep the guys going,'' quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. ''I felt like I tried to do that, but maybe I didn't do enough.''
A week after lighting up Tennessee for five touchdowns on mostly throws underneath, Roethlisberger tried to air it out against the Jaguars. It worked for 30 minutes. He hit Mike Wallace for a pair of deep completions - including a 28-yard touchdown - and Emmanuel Sanders for another.
In the second half he continued to test Jacksonville. Though Wallace and company had little trouble getting behind the secondary, Roethlisberger couldn't get them the ball on a windy day at Heinz Field. Roethlisberger completed just 1 of 5 passes after the break.
''My biggest thing is just don't underthrow it, but they got up in the wind and just kept going,'' Roethlisberger said. ''I got to connect on them. That's on me.''
Though he was hardly alone in his frustration. The Steelers had a chance to go up 21-0 in the second quarter after running back Rashard Mendenhall ripped off a 68-yard run. Two plunges into the line and a fade pass Antonio Brown that fluttered over Brown's head forced the Steelers to settle for a field goal.
A touchdown would have likely forced the Jaguars to abandon the run completely and rely on rookie Blaine Gabbert. Instead the stand seemed to revitalize Jacksonville's defense. The Steelers wouldn't score again, though kicker Shaun Suisham missed a 46-yard field goal wide left.
''We (want to be) a team that is good and executes on third down and in the red zone and not turn the ball over,'' Pittsburgh wide receiver Hines Ward said. ''If we do that, we're a pretty good ball club. We just have to be consistent. We are not doing it on a consistent level yet. But we're getting there.''
The Steelers will need to get there soon if they want to prove their slow start is just that and not indicative of another Super Bowl hangover.
Pittsburgh travels to Arizona (1-4) next Sunday before a two-game homestand against New England and Baltimore. The Cardinals are no pushovers, and the Steelers are just 1-2 on the road this year, with the victory a 23-20 escape against winless Indianapolis.
Hanging with the Patriots and the Ravens - who have more combined wins (9) than the four teams Pittsburgh has beaten (6) - will require more than a solid half, and the Steelers know it.
''We have to keep the same intensity the whole game,'' Wallace said.
On both sides of the ball.
Though Pittsburgh's defense limited the Jaguars to 209 yards, Jacksonville made enough plays in the second half to hang around. The Jaguars scored their only touchdown on a 17-play, 80-yard drive that took nearly 10 minutes off the clock.
The drive included an automatic first down after Pittsburgh's Ryan Mundy roughed Jacksonville punter Nick Harris and a fourth-down conversion.
''They continued running the ball and we just did a bad job of tackling,'' Pittsburgh linebacker LaMarr Woodley said.
And a poor job of putting a team away, again.
Still, the Steelers would rather apologize for sluggish play in a win than the alternative. Despite their somewhat bumpy start, they're right where they expected entering the meat of the season.
''We won the game,'' Ward said, ''that's all that matters.''