It wasn't pretty, but Jaguars find way to win

PITTSBURGH -- So, which are the "real" Jacksonville Jaguars?

Are they the team that dominated the Pittsburgh Steelers for three quarters of Saturday night's wild-card playoff game?

Or, are they the team that came perilously close to suffering one of the worst meltdowns in NFL playoff history?

The cynic could easily say that the Jaguars hardly look like the team that so many observers around the league pegged as having what it takes to spoil the New England Patriots' postseason perfection party.

I certainly have my doubts. I once thought the Jags were a club that had all of the necessary ingredients to be as dangerous as any team in the playoffs -- powerful running game, a quarterback who takes exceptionally great care of the football, a punishing defense that makes big plays, and poise. Especially poise. The Jaguars clearly lost their composure at the least opportune time Saturday night. They looked like a team that, well, hadn't won a playoff game since beating Miami in the divisional round after the 1999 season.

Of course, you could always take this perspective that coach Jack Del Rio offered of the Jags' ability to pull out a 31-29 win after squandering an 18-point lead in the fourth quarter: "I think it clearly exemplifies the kind of resolve this team has competed with all year."

During the regular season, the Jaguars overcame injuries to key players, such as defensive tackle Marcus Stroud, linebacker Mike Peterson, offensive guard Chris Naeole, and even quarterback David Garrard, who missed three games with a bum ankle.

On Saturday night, they overcame themselves.

At the end of the third quarter, they held a 28-10 lead and were giving the Patriots and every other team in the AFC playoffs something to worry about. Then, after three quick Steelers touchdowns, the advantage disappeared. It was Pittsburgh 29, Jacksonville 28 with 6:21 remaining.

For Del Rio, it was not a time to panic, even though that seemed like the obvious reaction. "You're wanting to stay calm, stay poised, keep fighting," he said.

With 2:38 left, the Jaguars got the ball again. Right before the members of his offense took the field, Del Rio pulled them together and said, "Guys, you've got to love it. I mean, here we are. It's right here. Let's have fun, let's go down, make some plays and win this ballgame."

He made it sound so simple, yet it was a monumental task.

The play that ultimately won it was Josh Scobee's 25-yard field goal with 37 seconds left. But the play that set up the winning points was Garrard's 32-yard quarterback draw on fourth-and-two from the Pittsburgh 43.

Garrard, in his first playoff start, had wanted to run the play on third-and-two, but the coaches called a pass that fell incomplete. He had insisted on having the ball in his hands at crunch time, mainly because he wanted to make up for the mistakes he made, including two interceptions that led to 10 Pittsburgh points.

"I knew they weren't going to stop me for two yards," Garrard said.

At 6-foot-1 and 245 pounds, he knew he had too much size and power for the mostly smallish defenders the Steelers had had on the field to defend the pass. Garrard figured, at the very least, he could lower his helmet and push his way past the first-down marker. He never expected to turn two yards into 32, but that was the case when the Pittsburgh sent an all-out blitz that didn't get to him and left the field wide open for a long gain.

"It allows this team to build more character," Garrard said of the Jaguars' recovery from allowing their 18-point lead to evaporate. "It allows us to know that when the chips are on the line and we're down with only minutes left, we can go down and drive and win the ballgame."

Still, the Jaguars never should have found themselves in that position.

After intercepting Ben Roethlisberger three times, they gave the Steelers' struggling quarterback new life by responding terribly to the no-huddle offense that Pittsburgh used for much of the second half. The Jags left too much room underneath their zone coverage for Roethlisberger to exploit with passes to tight end Heath Miller and his top receiver, Hines Ward.

You sensed that it could all unravel for Jacksonville at the start of the fourth quarter when coach Mike Tomlin elected to go for it on fourth-and-12 from, and Roethlisberger connected with Santonio Holmes for 37-yard touchdown. After that, Big Ben hooked up with Miller on a 14-yard scoring throw, and then cashed in on Garrard's second interception with a drive that ended with a one-yard touchdown run by Najeh Davenport to give the Steelers a one-point lead.

Nevertheless, the fact the Jaguars found a way to win -- thanks in no small part to Tomlin's decision to attempt a pair of two-point conversions that were unsuccessful -- does say something about their grit and determination. Those are qualities that should serve them well in the next round of the playoffs.

Perhaps Del Rio was envisioning a dramatic finish when he addressed his players the night before the game.

"I told them that I love coaching them," he said. "This team has been so unselfish and has worked so hard all year for me. I respect what these guys bring to the field."

They'll need to bring much more in the divisional round ... especially if the opponent is New England.

Have a question for Vic on anything NFL related? Don't just sit there -- send it to AskVic@nfl.com, and the best questions will be answered throughout the season right here on NFL.com!

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.
Gamepass_vert_web_r

See all the Action

Replay every game all season.