JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser examines five key plays that shaped the Jaguars' 27-3 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville Sunday
1.Early third-down conversion, Luton to Robinson. If you blinked, you might have missed this one – but the Jaguars' lone third-down conversion of their opening drive was a big early moment. On the play, rookie quarterback Jake Luton threw a high-velocity pass to rookie running back James Robinson in the flat. The pace of the pass allowed Robinson to catch the ball despite good coverage, and Robinson turned the play up field to turn 3rd-and-2 from the 50 into a first down at the Steelers 35. The play keyed a 57-yard game-opening drive that led to a 41-yard field goal by Chase McLaughlin that gave the Jaguars an early 3-0 lead. That helped the Jaguars get some early momentum that allowed them to keep the game close – early, at least. Robinson also rushed for 20 yards on the drive and finished the game with 73 yards on 17 carries. "James is consistent," Marrone said. "He gets the most out of everything. There's not much more we can ask of him. He's a bright spot, obviously."
2.Conley drop. The Jaguars' early effort Sunday was impressive. The game was tied 3-3 early in the second quarter, and – despite Luton struggling against an aggressive Steelers defense – the Jaguars had a chance at a go-ahead drive. With the Jaguars facing 3rd-and-9 at their 26, Luton – who had completed three of 11 passes to that point – threw a perfect 25-yard pass to wide receiver Chris Conley, who dropped the pass near midfield. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger capped the ensuing drive with a 31-yard touchdown pass to rookie wide receiver Chase Claypool with 7:00 remaining in the half for a 10-3 Steelers lead.
3.Claypool touchdown. Roethlisberger's touchdown pass to Claypool midway through the second quarter not only gave the Steelers a lead they never relinquished, it in a sense defined the defining quarter – and therefore the game. The Steelers outscored the Jaguars 17-0 in the quarter, scoring all the points they would need and taking control of the game after the Jaguars had done a nice job controlling tempo and staying close to a heavily-favored opponent. The Steelers kept the drive alive when Roethlisberger passed 12 yards to wide receiver James Washington to convert 3rd-and-5 from the Jaguars 46. Two plays later, Roethlisberger found Claypool just behind rookie seventh-round section Chris Claybrooks in the short corner of the end zone. Claypool made a nice over-the-shoulder catch for a touchdown and a one-score lead. "In the NFL, you get thrown in trial by fire," Jaguars linebacker Joe Schobert said. "Ben Roethlisberger is a smart guy. The Steelers have really good skill positions and some good guys on the outside. I thought they (the Jaguars' defensive backs) were competing, they were in the right positions the whole time and the other guys just made a few more plays today. … They were out there competing, even the guys who are out there, the young guys, some of them are hurt, playing through injuries during the game. You can't be nothing but proud of the effort they put out there." The Jaguars played without injured starting cornerbacks CJ Henderson and Sidney Jones IV Sunday, with safety Daniel Thomas, Claybrooks and nickel corner DJ Hayden all leaving the game because of injury.
4.Fitzpatrick interception. The Conley drop and ensuing Claypool touchdown didn't end the Jaguars' chances, nor did those plays break their spirit. The Jaguars on the ensuing series responded with an impressive drive that took them from their 25 to the Steelers 11. On 2nd-and-9 from there, Luton threw a hard, low pass to tight end Tyler Eifert. Former Jaguars defensive lineman Tyson Alualu tipped the pass just beyond the line of scrimmage. All-Pro safety Minkah Fitzpatrick caught the carom near the goal line and returned the interception to the Steelers 39. "Yeah, it's a tough play," Luton said. "He (Alualu) did a good job. He tipped it up and Fitzpatrick is all over the field and was in the right spot and made a good play." The Steelers' ensuing drive ended with a one-yard run by running back Benny Snell Jr. that gave the Steelers a 17-3 lead with :44 remaining in the half.
5.Ebron fourth-quarter touchdown. Sunday's second half featured few big plays. The Jaguars never seriously threatened in the third and fourth quarters, and a 47-yard field goal by Chris Barnwell gave the Steelers a 20-3 lead that essentially secured the game. The Steelers secured their victory – and continued a second half in which they maintained control of the tempo and feel of the game – when Roethlisberger passed 20 yards to tight end Eric Ebron to push the lead to 27-3 with 6:40 remaining.