For decades, the Steelers have combined "grind 'em down" defense with "grind it out" offense. The franchise's history includes running backs like Tom "The Bomb" Tracy and Jerome "The Bus" Bettis. Defensively, from Ernie Stautner to The Steel Curtain to the "Blitzburgh" troopers of recent years, the Steelers have a proud tradition of pounding the living daylights out of the opposition.
But when the Steelers journeyed to Jacksonville last Sunday night, it was Mike Tomlin's injury-depleted team that was battered and bruised. Pittsburgh's two top running backs -- Willie Parker and rookie Rashard Mendenhall -- were not in uniform. Also sidelined were guard Kendall Simmons and defensive linemen Casey Hampton, Nick Eason and Brett Keisel. No wonder the Steelers, despite sitting atop the AFC North with a 3-1 record, were designated as underdogs in this game.
To make matters worse, the Jaguars have a punishing persona that is in the same mold as Pittsburgh's. Their defense is known as "The Teal Curtain" for Pete's sake. Grind it out? In a Week 3 contest against the Colts, the Jags' time of possession was over 41 minutes. And oh by the way, Pittsburgh had lost four straight games to the Jaguars dating back to 2004.
On Sunday night, Ben Roethlisberger went bust on the game-opening drive. He suffered an 8-yard sack, then was intercepted by Rashean Mathis, who ran 72 yards for a touchdown. But Roethlisberger rebounded, and as he did, he became the embodiment of his team's time-tested identity. Sure, Roethlisberger uses a few modern trappings, like no huddle and empty backfield, but he approaches the game of football like a classic Steelers throwback -- tough, fearless and determined. He can take punishment, but brother, he can dish it out, too.
Roethlisberger came into the game with a sore right shoulder and had been sacked 16 times in four games. Against the Jaguars, he was dumped three more times, and was hounded relentlessly by Jacksonville's king-sized pass rushers. Still, he was 26 out of 41 for 309 yards and three touchdowns. Roethlisberger's Pittsburgh persona was at its most powerful with 6:30 remaining in the game and the Steelers trailing 21-20. Roethlisberger engineered an 80-yard touchdown drive that included two astounding plays where he escaped from the clutches of the Jags' D-line to complete 34 yards worth of passes to Hines Ward. The drive was climaxed by an 8-yard Roethlisberger fade pass to Ward. Final score: Pittsburgh 26, Jacksonville 21.
Roethlisberger was a catalyst for a victory that also included fine performances from fill-ins such as running back Mewilde Moore, who rushed for 99 yards. A defense that employed subs Travis Kirschke, Chris Hoke and Orpheus Roy registered three sacks. This unit also limited Jacksonville's potent running tandem of Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew to a combined total of 26 yards on 15 carries.