PITTSBURGH--The Jaguars had learned how to win at Three Rivers Stadium last season. The formula is easy: You beat the Steelers at their own game.
For the second consecutive season, the Jaguars won in Pittsburgh without Mark Brunell playing a starring role. Last year, the defense was the star. Last night, Fred Taylor rushed for 234 yards and assumed a place in the Steelers record book, in a 34-24 win over the Steelers.
Taylor's 234 yards is the most ever by a Steelers opponent. O.J. Simpson had previously held the record with 227 yards in 1975.
"He made some huge cut-back runs. The blocking was superb," coach Tom Coughlin said of his runner and his offensive line, who were stoned by the Steelers in Jacksonville on Oct. 1, when the Steelers held the Jaguars to 26 yards rushing and forced the Jaguars to throw 45 passes.
That is not how you beat the Steelers. You beat the Steelers by running it 36 times for 240 yards and a 6.7 yards per-carry average. Taylor accounted for all but six of those rushing yards, and his 7.8 yards per carry were bolstered by runs of 25, 31, 34, 26, 15 and 25 yards. He also scored four touchdowns, one of which came on a 16-yard catch-and-run play near the end of the first half.
"We knew we would have to out-physical the Steelers, and we did," Coughlin said.
Yes, the Jaguars did win the rushing battle. Curiously, Steelers offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride got away from the Steelers' vaunted rushing attack, running the ball just 24 times, though the Steelers averaged 6.1 yards per rush.
Amazingly, the Steelers attempted passes on each of their first three offensive plays, and that seemed to set a trend for the game. With a 7-0 lead in the second quarter and facing a second-and-three at the Steelers 47-yard line following a seven yard run by Jerome Bettis, Kordell Stewart's pass was bobbled by Courtney Hawkins directly into the hands of Kevin Hardy.
The Jaguars followed with a game-tying, 56-yard touchdown drive, and after the Steelers marched to a 10-7 lead, the Jaguars took the lead for good with an eight-play, 65-yard touchdown drive.
Fumbles killed the Steelers, especially during a short span of the third quarter. With the Jaguars leading 20-10, Steelers kick-returner Troy Edwards fumbled the ensuing kickoff and the Jaguars recovered at the Steelers 36-yard line. Taylor covered the remaining distance in two plays and the Jaguars had a 27-10 lead.
Six plays later, Stewart passed to Bobby Shaw, who fumbled the ball away at the Jaguars 42-yard line. Four plays later, Taylor put the game out of reach with a 26-yard touchdown run.
The only hairy moments for the Jaguars came late in the game. After the Steelers cut the deficit to 34-24 midway through the fourth quarter, Stewart threw a deep pass for Hines Ward, who appeared to have the ball in his hands, but lost control as he hit the ground inside the Jags 10-yard line.
When kicker Kris Brown missed a 42-yard field goal attempt, the outcome was decided.
"Defensively, we played outstanding football. Offensively, the performance of the offensive line, the tight end, the fullback, the running game and Fred Taylor were outstanding," Coughlin said.
"The knowledge of coming in here and what had to happen, and the fact that we were beaten at home; we got manhandled in Jacksonville, and the offensive line did a great job tonight," Coughlin added.
Brunell and the passing game were efficient enough to provide balance to the Jaguars offense, but Taylor was the star of stars. In a nationally-televised performance, Taylor brought considerable attention to himself.
"If you would have told me we would have that kind of performance in the run game, it would have been hard to believe," Brunell said.
"We went out there and did what you're supposed to do to a 3-4 defense; run the football," wide receiver Keenan McCardell said. "Just winning and winning here is great. We really wanted to show these guys we could play," McCardell added of the Jaguars' final game in Three Rivers Stadium, which will be demolished following the season.
At 4-7, the Jaguars are in fourth place in the AFC Central Division, but are likely to move up to a respectable finishing position, considering a soft December schedule.
However, before the Jaguars reach the final four games of their season, they have a date this Sunday against the Tennessee Titans at Alltel Stadium. It will be the highlight game of the season; a chance for the Jaguars to avenge last January's AFC title game loss to the Titans.
What might Taylor do for an encore?