PITTSBURGH, Pa. – They came, they saw, and after yet another slow start, they battled.
For the Jaguars, while that much was true at Heinz Field Sunday, for the fifth time in as many weeks something else was, too:
Close wasn't enough to conquer. Hard-fought and valiant wasn't either.
And once again, it was real frustrating.
The Jaguars, after falling behind by 17 points in a statistically one-sided first half, rallied in gutty, gritty fashion, staying close with a dominant second-half defensive effort before losing a fifth consecutive game Sunday – 17-13, to the Pittsburgh Steelers in front of 62.934 at Heinz Field.
"It's frustrating, but at the same time, so was the week before that and the week before that," Jaguars tight end Marcedes Lewis said.
The Jaguars, after a season-opening victory, now have lost eight of their last nine games. The five-game losing streak is the team's first since 2001.
"I told our guys, 'We're not into moral victories,' but I know one thing: If you let go of the rope, you have no chance,'' Jaguars Head Coach Jack Del Rio said. "We are doing the right things. We're preparing the right way. We're working our butts off.
"We just need to play a little better in some key moments, and ultimately, if that doesn't occur, that falls on my shoulders as the head coach. I understand that and I'll take full responsibility for it. Ultimately, I've got to find a way to get our guys to play a little bit better."
For a half Sunday, the story wasn't frustration for the Jaguars, but domination for the Steelers.
Pittsburgh moved easily through the Jaguars' defense early, scoring on drives of 87 and 72 yards to start the game. An 8-yard run by running back Rashard Mendenhall made it 7-0 with 4:23 remaining in the first quarter, and with 13:40 remaining in the half, wide receiver Mike Wallace got open in the end zone for a 28-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
The Steelers pushed the lead to 17-0 with a 21-yard field goal by Shaun Suisham 10:58 before halftime, and although a 46-yard field goal by Josh Scobee made it 17-3, the Steelers held an overwhelming statistical edge at halftime.
The Steelers, who finished with a 370-209 advantage in total yards, held a 315-68 total-yardage advantage after two quarters, with the Steelers having an 18:28-11:32 time-of-possession edge and a 12-7 advantage in first downs.
"We dug a hole early," Del Rio said.
In the second half, momentum turned dramatically.
"I thought we settled down and did some of the things we needed to do," Del Rio said."We made some of the plays that were there to be made in the second half."
The Jaguars dominated the third quarter, pulling to within 17-10 when rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert (12-of-26, 109 yards, one touchdown) capped a 17-play, 80-yard drive with an 18-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Jason Hill. The drive consumed 9:35 and ended with 1:46 left in the third quarter.
With the defense holding Pittsburgh to 55 second-half yards and three first downs, the Jaguars pulled to within four, 17-13, with a 45-yard field goal by Scobee with 4:17 remaining. The field goal came one play after a 2-yard loss on a run by backup running back Deji Karim.
The Jaguars at first went to the line on 4th-and-6 from the Steelers 27, but after Gabbert called timeout, Del Rio opted for the field goal.
"Blaine did a good job of not forcing it," Del Rio said. "It was a bad look for what we had up. We elected to go ahead and kick a field goal and rely on our defense to get the ball back, which we were able to do."
The Steelers picked up a first down when Roethlisberger scrambled for a first down, and when the Jaguars forced a punt four players later, Jacksonville regained possession with 1:01 remaining. Six plays netted 29 yards, but Gabbert's last-play Hail Mary to Jarett Dillard was incomplete into the end zone.
"It sucks," Jaguars linebacker Daryl Smith said. "They jumped out on us. We settled in and played, but it was too late then. We'll go and make corrections and get ready for Baltimore.
Of the strong second half, Smith said, "A loss a loss. It doesn't even matter. Without getting wins . . . This is what, I don't even know. Five in a row? The only thing we can do is get back to work. We feel like we're so close. We've got to start faster, sustain it and finish strong.
"We're going to get back to work and find a way."
Also for the Jaguars Sunday:
*Rookie Cameron Bradfield started at left tackle after starter Eugene Monroe was unable to start because of a shoulder injury. With right tackle/left guard Eben Britton a late scratch because his back tightened up Sunday morning, the Jaguars started Bradfield, Will Rackley, Brad Meester, Uche Nwaneri and Guy Whimper across the offensive line. Gabbert was sacked five times. Del Rio said the Jaguars learned of Britton's situation "a couple of hours before the game." It was Bradfield's first start after signing as a rookie free agent this past off-season.
*Of the recent shuffling of the offensive line, Del Rio said, "We're talking about little things here. That's not a little thing that's helping." With Monroe and Britton unavailable, the Jaguars have started Monroe, Whimper and Bradfield at left tackle in recent weeks.
*Jaguars fullback Greg Jones on a second-half post-play altercation with Steelers linebacker Lamar Woodley that resulted in each player being penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct: "Two competitive guys – that's all. That's how it is. It just happened."
*Del Rio said the defensive improvement in the second half was a matter of "doing what you have to do. There were some minor adjustments system-wise, but it really came down to playing better."