Big Ben Amazing
Ben Roethlisberger had Reggie Hayward draped on his back one play and John Henderson breathing down his neck a few snaps later.
Either one could have been a sack. Both almost were.
But Big Ben turned them into big completions, maybe the highlights of his big night that gave the Pittsburgh Steelers a big boost in the AFC North.
Roethlisberger threw for 309 yards and three touchdowns, helping the Steelers overcome their offensive woes and leading them to a 26-21 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday night.
Roethlisberger finished 26-of-41, rebounding from an interception on his third pass that Rashean Mathis returned 72 yards for a score.
His perfect 8-yard fade pass to Hines Ward in the corner of the end zone put the Steelers ahead 26-21 with 1:53 remaining. Even better were those two passes on the drive with Jaguars hanging on his shoulder pads: one on the first play and the other on a critical third down.
``That's Ben,'' Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. ``Sometimes he holds the ball too long, and the offensive line catches a bad rap for it. But you take the good with the bad because he can step up and deliver the way he delivered tonight. He's very good at what he does, and the guys have a great deal of belief in him. He delivers time and time again.''
Roethlisberger had Hayward knocking him to the ground to open the drive, but completed a 16-yard pass to Ward.
``That just got us going,'' Ward said.
Seven plays later, facing third-and-8 at the Jacksonville 31 and trailing 21-20, he had Henderson in nearly the same position. Roethlisberger managed to get off another pass, this one an 18-yard completion to Ward that set up the go-ahead score.
``That was really the difference,'' Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio said. ``If we don't give up that play, it's probably a little bit different feeling right now.''
Jaguars quarterback David Garrard was amazed by the throws.
``I've never seen something like that before in that situation, with the game on the line, guys pulling him to the ground and he throws it 20 yards down the field, on the money,'' Garrard said. ``He joked to me after the game, 'I was really throwing it away.' That was a great throw away.''
Pittsburgh (4-1) snapped a four-game losing streak against Jacksonville and stretched its division lead over Baltimore (2-2), which lost to Tennessee earlier in the day.
Roethlisberger misfired on the 2-point conversion following his final touchdown pass, but Pittsburgh's defense sealed the win by sacking Garrard and then forcing two incompletions.
The Jaguars (2-3) blew a late lead for the fourth consecutive week. They rallied the last two games, getting winning field goals to beat Indianapolis and Houston.
No such luck this time around.
Roethlisberger and his teammates celebrated against Jacksonville for the first time since 2004.
The Jaguars won two close games in Pittsburgh last season, including a 31-29 victory in the first round of the playoffs, and were favored in this one mostly because of the Steelers' injuries.
They played without running backs Willie Parker (knee) and Rashard Mendenhall (shoulder), guard Kendall Simmons (Achilles' tendon) and defensive linemen Casey Hampton (groin) and Brett Keisel (calf).
``We had a statement: 'The more you can do,' and we called on a lot of people to do that,'' Tomlin said. ``Guys stepped outside their lines if you will and delivered, delivered big.''
Because Roethlisberger had been sacked 16 times in the first four games, the Jaguars expected to have a big day against Big Ben.
It ended up being the other way around.
Roethlisberger picked apart Jacksonville's secondary, which played without starting safety Reggie Nelson and cornerback Drayton Florence. He even did it with defenders in his face and on his back.
The Steelers rolled up 28 first downs and 415 yards, and probably would have won going away had it not been for the early interception and 10 penalties for 129 yards.
``It's something that simply has to be better,'' Del Rio said, trying to explain another defensive meltdown. ``It's the difference between being good and not being good. If you can't get off the field on third down, you give yourself more exposure to all the things you want to avoid.''
Houston's Matt Schaub torched the Jaguars for 307 yards passing and three scores last week. Del Rio vowed to get the lapses fixed.
Roethlisberger threw for 237 yards and two scores in the first half and directed scoring drives of 71, 59, 82 and 66 yards. Pittsburgh outgained Jacksonville 300 yards to 49 yards in the first half and had 17 more first downs.
The Jaguars settled down after the break, holding the Steelers to no yards in two possessions and then took a 21-20 lead on the second play of the fourth when Garrard hit tight end Marcedes Lewis over the middle for a 24-yard score.
Jacksonville might have had a bigger lead, but Del Rio passed on a 51-yard field goal attempt in the third quarter. Garrard's fourth-down pass was tipped at the line of scrimmage.
The one-point margin made it easier for Roethlisberger, who directed an 11-play, 80-yard drive in 4:40 to put the Steelers ahead for good.
Nate Washington caught six passes for 94 yards and a touchdown. Ward had seven receptions for 90 yards and a score.
Mewelde Moore, filling in for Parker, ran 17 times for 99 yards.
But everyone will remember this one for Roethlisberger.
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