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Jags answer challenge


Their confidence is soaring. They are 4-2 with the most difficult stretch of their schedule behind them and they are heading into their bye week as a legitimate playoff contender.

"This is a tough ball team. This is a good, young football team. We want to grow," coach Jack Del Rio said following his Jaguars' 23-17, overtime win over the Steelers on Sunday afternoon at Heinz Field.

At the heart of the Jaguars' pride was their ability to stand toe-to-toe with the Steelers. They held the Steelers to 73 yards rushing. They reduced Tommy Maddox to an interception machine.

The Jaguars pounded out 84 yards rushing in the first half and took control of a game in which they held the ball nearly nine minutes longer than the Steelers and reduced Maddox and the Steelers to one-for-12 in third-down conversions.

For much of the game, the Jaguars' dominance on defense was so distinct that an incomplete pass was a victory for the Steelers. That's how likely it had become that the Jaguars would intercept Maddox, again.

The third interception, of course, was the game-winner for the Jaguars.

"I asked before the game that we understand the kind of game it would be; a physical game. I told you I was confident we could (stop the run) and we did," Del Rio said.

Del Rio was so confident of his team's ability to match up physically with the Steelers that he chose to go for the sticks on a fourth-and-two play in the first quarter and a fourth-and-goal from inside the one-yard line just before halftime. The Jaguars were stopped on the first play and stopped themselves with a false-start penalty on the second one.

"On the road, wanting to be aggressive, make a statement and punch it in," Del Rio said of what went into his decision-making. "We live with the results."

It was all part of his challenge to his team last week. He challenged them to stand up physically to the Steelers. They responded.

"This is a statement game. We hit them in the mouth, they hit us in the mouth and we hit them back. We knew if we got them in third-and-long it would be to our advantage," cornerback Rashean Mathis said. Mathis, of course, scored the game-winning touchdown on a 41-yard interception return.

"It didn't matter who showed up (at quarterback). He didn't hurt them too bad," Mathis said of Maddox, who was replacing the injured Ben Roethlisberger. "We stopped the run and we were able to stop the pass."

All of this is fine, but only if the Jaguars return to action on Oct. 30 in St. Louis with the same energy and the same resolve they had in Pittsburgh on Sunday. The win over the Steelers put the Jaguars in a position to challenge for the playoffs, but it didn't put them in the playoffs. That will require several more wins.

So where do they stand at their bye week, six games into this season? Well, they are, depending on the outcome of Monday night's game, either two games or one game behind the Colts in the AFC South title race. Don't give up on that just yet. The Colts have the tough part of their schedule ahead of them. They have games in New England and in Cincinnati and against visiting Pittsburgh in November. Most importantly, the Colts have to come to Jacksonville in December.

Two weeks ago, following an embarrassing loss to Denver, some hack of a scribe wrote that the Jaguars would have to win their next two games to stay in the division title race. They have.

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