Jaguars 24, Steelers 9
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) _ Mark Brunell ran at opportune times, hit the key passes and kept the offense simple but effective. What Pittsburgh coach Bill Cowher wouldn’t give to have that kind of performance.
As Brunell was leading the second-year Jacksonville Jaguars to a 24-9 victory over the AFC champions, Cowher was trying to figure out his mess at quarterback.
Jim Miller, designated as the starter based on Cowher’s gut feeling, bounced a potential touchdown pass to Andre Hastings and threw incomplete on six third-down situations.
The offense gained 16 yards the two series Kordell Stewart was in charge. And on Mike Tomczak’s first snap, in the fourth quarter with the Steelers trailing 17-9, he threw an interception to rookie linebacker Kevin Hardy.
Receivers Ernie Mills and Yancey Thigpen didn’t play, but the way the quarterbacks threw the ball, it might not have mattered.
``Obviously, it wasn’t very good on our part,″ Cowher said. ``I’m not making any decisions on our quarterback situation at this time. I won’t make decisions based on any one player or how it will affect them. I make decisions on what I feel is in the best interest of this team.″
The Steelers didn’t look anything like a team that lost 27-17 to Dallas in the Super Bowl.
Rod Woodson, making his first start since tearing knee ligaments in the first game last year, got burned by Willie Jackson on a 38-yard touchdown pass on the Jaguars’ opening drive. The offensive line, missing Brenden Stai to an injury, gave up four sacks. And Brunell often had plenty of time to throw, completing eight of 13 passes on third-down situations.
``This game is huge for us,″ said Brunell, who was 20-for-31 for 212 yards, with TD passes to Jackson and Keenan McCardell. ``You wish you could bottle this up, take this feeling and carry it on to next week.″
The Steelers have a lot more to worry about than their quarterback situation.
Already missing defensive end Ray Seals for the year with a torn rotator cuff, they got more bad news Sunday when Greg Lloyd tore the tendon in his left kneecap when Woodson bumped his leg on a blitz.
Linebackers Jason Gildon and Steven Conley also are expected to miss games with knee sprains.
``We just have to stick together,″ linebacker Levon Kirkland said. ``That’s how life is. There are a lot of ups and downs, and we just have to come back.″
No one understands that better than Miller. The third-year pro who was making his first NFL start had an uneventful debut. The Steelers had great position throughout the first half, but managed only two field goals by Norm Johnson.
Miller was pulled for good after missing Hastings in the end zone, which would have made it 14-13.
``Life’s not fair and that’s all there is to it,″ said Miller, who was 9-of-17 for 83 yards. ``I work for the Steelers and I just do what I’m told. He’s going to do what’s best for his team.″
Stewart badly missed his two attempts, got stuffed twice on option plays and caught an 8-yard pass over the middle.
``One time they put one guy in there and then they put me in certain situations, and all of a sudden I’ve got to make something happen,″ Stewart said. ``Things weren’t happening.″
They were for the Jaguars, who have now beaten Pittsburgh twice in Jacksonville.
The defense held the Steelers to 187 yards and did not give up a touchdown.
With Natrone Means out with a torn ligament in his right thumb, James Stewart carried 25 times for 77 yards, and the offensive line began to wear down the Steelers in the fourth quarter.
Brunell led impressive drives at the right time _ the 80-yard touchdown drive on the first series, another touchdown drive right before halftime and a back breaker in the fourth quarter _ 46 yards that took 5:40 off the clock and resulted in a 52-yard field goal by Mike Hollis.
He was everything the Steelers used to have with Neil O’Donnell, who signed with the New York Jets in the offseason.