Rashean Mathis knew what was coming. It was almost too easy.
"You see something and you react to it. They ran the same route combination, the same formation. I jumped the play," Mathis said of his game-winning interception and 41-yard touchdown return, which lifted the Jaguars to a 23-17 win over the Steelers on Sunday at Heinz Field.
It was a game in which the Steelers were without their star passing combination of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and wide receiver Hines Ward, who was forced to miss a game for the first time in his career. The Jaguars played without running back Fred Taylor.
Roethlisberger's replacement, Tommy Maddox, was intercepted three times and by-and-large embarrassed by the Jaguars defense. The Jaguars were able to defense Maddox while focusing most of their efforts on stopping the Steelers' running game.
"We knew what they were going to do and everybody played their assignment well. I felt we were more physical than they were," linebacker Akin Ayodele said.
The Jaguars held the Steelers to 73 yards rushing and Maddox to a 30.1 passer rating that included a measly 154 yards, one touchdown pass and three interceptions. There could've been a lot more.
"I think we played a good game. We were able to play good against a playoff team on the road. That speaks volumes and I think it's going to speak volumes about where we're going," defensive tackle Marcus Stroud said.
Beating the Steelers, however, required a major twist of fate in overtime. After Quincy Morgan returned the overtime kickoff 70 yards to the Jaguars 26-yard line, Maddox fumbled away the potential game-winning field goal for the Steelers. On a third-and-11 play, Maddox dropped the ball as he pulled away from center and was unable to fall on it before Reggie Hayward poured through and recovered the ball for Jacksonville.
On the Steelers' next possession in overtime, Mathis ended the game.
Steelers coach Bill Cowher said in his postgame address to the media that he had considered making a switch at quarterback. He did not elaborate on why he didn't but he, no doubt, regrets not having pulled the plug on Maddox. Maybe Cowher also regrets not having kicked on third down.
"I'll take it any way we can get it," Jaguars wide receiver Jimmy Smith said. "We came in wanting to pound the ball and run, run, run."
Taylor was deactivated after deciding in pregame that he couldn't run. He had sprained his ankle the previous Sunday against Cincinnati.
Fullback Greg Jones replaced Taylor in the starting lineup and Jones rushed for 74 yards in the first half and helped the Jaguars establish control of the line of scrimmage and time of possession.
"We ran the ball very well. Greg Jones pounded it up in there. We were able to run it good early. That gave us a lift because we didn't have Fred and that hurt," coach Jack Del Rio said.
"It's not just Jimmy Smith and Fred Taylor any more. That's what we're going to have to have to get to the next level," Smith said.
Byron Leftwich did not enjoy his best game. He was 19 of 35 for 177 yards, one touchdown, one interception and a 66.0 passer rating. Leftwich was sacked three times but, by and large, was well-protected by his offensive line.
Leftwich's most glaring error occurred near the end of regulation. The Jaguars were in position to attempt a game-winning field goal, the ball at the Steelers 32-yard line. On third-and-eight, Leftwich threw for the end zone for Reggie Williams. The ball was slightly underthrown and was intercepted by Steelers rookie cornerback Bryant McFadden, who was running step-for-step with Williams.
"We didn't play a great game but we found a way to win," Leftwich said. "We had a tough six-game stretch. We beat some good teams who are going to be in the playoffs."
At 4-2 and heading into their bye week, the Jaguars can entertain the question, are they going to be in the playoffs?