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Jaguars one play away


His kick came so close to being that one play Jack Del Rio wanted. Josh Scobee stood and watched and hoped his kick would turn back ever so slightly to the left, but it didn't. It just continued to fade and, with it, so might have the Jaguars' playoff hopes.

"I knew I had the distance. I was just hoping it was going to come back in," Scobee said following the Jaguars' 17-16 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday night at Alltel Stadium.

Scobee was the Jaguars' last hope. He lined up a 60-yard field goal attempt in front of a frenzied Alltel Stadium crowd and a national television audience, and the kid hit it pure. He bombed it; perfect kick, except for that cruel fade at the end.

"The chance to beat a team like Pittsburgh with a kick like that is special," Scobee said.

It was a very special game that included special circumstances. The Jaguars needed a win to firmly plant themselves in the playoffs chase. The Steelers needed a win to stay ahead of the Patriots in the homefield advantage race. And Alltel Stadium was a mix of Jaguars fans determined to defend their home turf against a sea of Steelers fans and their gold towels.

"We came up a play short. We're 6-6. Every game has been a nail-biter. Play away. We're frustrated we didn't get a win there," Del Rio offered to the media in the postgame interview session.

He reached deep for the words. He was choking on them. This one hurt like none other had. The Jaguars hadn't played a game of this magnitude in a long time.

"I haven't felt this disappointed since the title-game loss to Tennessee in '99," Jimmy Smith said.

Here are the gut-wrenching details.

• Trailing 14-13 with 6:44 to play, the Jaguars began at their 20-yard line what they hoped would be a game-winning drive. They moved through the air and along the ground, eating up yardage and time as they closed on the goal line. The drive eventually stalled at the Steelers 18-yard line, but that was close enough for Scobee to boot a 36-yard field goal that left the Jaguars with a 16-14 lead with 1:55 to play.

• Now it was the Steelers' turn and they put their hopes on the shoulders of rookie quarterback sensation Ben Roethlisberger, who threw three consecutive completions that helped move the Steelers to the Jaguars 19-yard line with 23 seconds to play. On third down, Bill Cowher sent Jeff Reed onto the field for a 37-yard field goal attempt and Reed split the uprights for a 17-16 lead with 18 seconds left to play.

• The Jaguars returned the kickoff to their 39-yard line. Byron Leftwich completed a 19-yard pass to Smith at the Steelers 42-yard line with four seconds to play. Enter Scobee. You know the rest.

"One play away at a number of places and we could be a whole lot happier right now," Del Rio said.

His greatest lament, of course, was his offense's red-zone performance, again. The Jaguars scored only one touchdown in five trips into the red zone. It has become the single-greatest failure of this team. It continues to gain yards but fails to score enough points.

"I can talk about it but there's not much to say. It's clearly a sore spot. It's just not good enough to win a close game. We had a number of opportunities to close that game out," Del Rio said of the red-zone scoring average.

"In order to be a good team, you have to score touchdowns. When you don't execute against a defense like that, you're going to fall short. We just have to score more points," Leftwich said.

Leftwich and Roethlisberger waged a great head-to-head battle. Leftwich completed 16 of 27 passes for 268 yards, one touchdown, no interceptions and a 105.2 passer rating.

Roethlisberger was even better. He completed 14 of 17 passes for 221 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions and a scintillating 158.0 passer rating. He also ran three times for 40 yards and stretched his record as a starter to 10-0.

"He's winning football games. He's a heckuva quarterback and I wish him the best of luck," Leftwich said of Roethlisberger. The two maintain a friendship from their days in the Mid-American Conference.

Jaguars middle linebacker Mike Peterson said, "We gave 'em a win. Plain and simple: We left a win out on the field."

He was probably referring to the defense's inability to stop the Steelers after Scobee had given the Jaguars the lead with 1:55 to play. The Steelers moved into scoring position so quickly that Cowher decided to let time click off the clock before spiking the ball on second down and sending Reed into the game for the game-winner.

"Same things we did the whole game. We just didn't do them as well," Del Rio said of the Jaguars' defensive strategy. The Jaguars did not play "prevent" in Pittsburgh's final drive.

At 6-6, the Jaguars are tied with Buffalo and Cincinnati in the AFC wild-card race. The Jaguars could've drawn even with Denver and Baltimore, each of whom lost and saw their records fall to 7-5. Making the loss especially bad for the Jaguars was that it was to an AFC opponent, which hurts the Jaguars' tie-breaker strength.

"As far as the playoff races and getting knocked out and such, until someone gives me a formal notice that we're out, we're fighting for our lives. I'm conceding nothing. I know us making the playoffs is highly unlikely but it's not impossible," Del Rio said.

The Jaguars distributed 76,877 tickets for the game, which means every seat in Alltel Stadium was sold. It is the largest attendance in Jaguars history.

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