Jags stun Steelers to advance in AFC playoffs

PITTSBURGH (AP) -The Jacksonville Jaguars relied on a punishing running game to win at Pittsburgh three weeks ago.

They got big plays from their defense and special teams to take an early lead in the rematch Saturday night.

Rashean Mathis returned the first of three first-half interceptions 63 yards for a touchdown, Maurice Jones-Drew brought back a kickoff 96 yards and the Jaguars led the Steelers 28-17 early in the fourth quarter of their AFC wild-card playoff game.

Mathis picked off two of Ben Roethlisberger's passes in the second quarter, returning the first for a score and giving Jacksonville good field position with the second.

David Garrard hooked up with Jones-Drew for a 43-yard score on third down after Mathis' second pick. Jones-Drew beat James Farrior on a wheel route, then juked Tyrone Carter near the goal line for the touchdown.

Pittsburgh was driving late in the second and trying to get back in it, but Roethlisberger was picked off again. Defensive lineman Derek Landri dropped into coverage and made a nice play on the short pass over the middle.

The Steelers turned Garrard's interception into a field goal to start the third quarter, but Jacksonville bounced right back with a touchdown.

Garrard directed an 82-yard scoring drive in eight plays, scrambling for 15 yards and completing two passes for 39 yards. Jones-Drew capped the drive with a 10-yard TD run.

Roethlisberger and the Steelers answered, scoring on a fourth-and-12 play. Roethlisberger hooked up with Santonio Holmes for a 37-yard score on the first play of the fourth quarter, making it 28-17 with 14:53 remaining.

The Jaguars, trying to become the first team to win twice at Pittsburgh in the same season, scored 21 straight points in the first half and looked like a much different team from the one the lost 28-3 at New England in the playoffs two years ago.

That game marked the first playoff experience for most of coach Jack Del Rio's players. They expected to be much better prepared in this one, and at least early, they were.

They sacked Roethlisberger four times in the first half. They also pressured him into the three mistakes.

Mathis stepped in front of Santonio Holmes for his first pick, waited for a few blocks and weaved his way to the end zone. Two plays later, Roethlisberger rolled right and threw into double coverage. Mathis and linebacker Justin Durant had Najeh Davenport sandwiched in coverage, and Mathis outjumped the other two for another pick.

Mathis appeared to return this one to the Pittsburgh 21, but the Steelers challenged the call and officials ruled he was down near midfield.

It didn't matter, though, as Jones-Drew scored on the long pass play.

Special teams set the tone for Jacksonville early.

The Jaguars had three glaring special teams errors in their first trip to Pittsburgh, a run-at-will 29-22 victory on a snowy, muddy field. Despite Jacksonville's 224 yards on the ground, the game was tied late because of a botched extra-point attempt, a missed short field goal and a 13-yard punt that followed a bobbled snap.

But Jones-Drew's kickoff return - the longest in Jacksonville's postseason history - set up Fred Taylor's 1-yard touchdown plunge.

It helped Jacksonville even the game after Pittsburgh took the opening kickoff 80 yards for a score. The Steelers became the first team to score a touchdown on an opening possession against Jacksonville this season.

Playing without running back Willie Parker and with third-string left tackle Trai Essex, the Steelers turned to Roethlisberger and a quick passing game to start this one.

Roethlisberger dropped back to pass six consecutive times to open the game, completing four of them for 53 yards.

Najeh Davenport, filling in for injured starter Willie Parker, gave Pittsburgh a 7-0 lead when he barreled in from a yard out on third down.

Jaguars defensive tackle John Henderson, flagged for a 15-yard penalty because of a horse-collar tackle on the drive, left with a strained hamstring. He later returned, but was clearly hobbling.

AP NEWS
The Associated Press News Service


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