Jeff Reed was an unlikely hero. Most would agree it was certainly unlikely Steelers coach Bill Cowher would allow Reed to attempt a 50-yard field goal into the wind, with the Steelers clinging to a 22-17 lead with 4:36 to play in the game. But Cowher did and Reed converted.
"He looked at me and said, 'What do you think?'" Reed said of his sideline exchange with Cowher. "It was a great feeling to have your coach have that confidence in you. If you don't have that, you lose confidence in yourself," Reed told reporters following the Steelers' 25-23 win at Alltel Stadium today.
Reed's 50-yarder was the game-winner, on a day when Reed's six field goals tied a Steelers record previous set by Gary Anderson. It was a bitter pill for the Jaguars to swallow, since Reed had worked out for the Jaguars in kicking auditions this fall that resulted in the Jaguars signing Tim Seder and, most recently, Richie Cunningham.
"I take my hat off to him," Jaguars coach Tom Coughlin said of Reed. "He has to kick a 50-yard field goal. We get the ball at midfield if he misses the kick. Don't forget this: They lined up to kick a 50-yard field goal with a rookie field goal kicker. My hat's off to them; the kid made it. That's the way the game is played."
The Jaguars rallied to score on a nine-play, 65-yard drive and had a chance to tie the game with a two-point conversion, but Steelers cornerback Dewayne Washington broke up Mark Brunell's pass for Jimmy Smith.
Statistically, the Jaguars were dominated by a Steelers team that marched the ball up and down the field but repeatedly failed in the red zone. The blame for that fell on quarterback Kordell Stewart, who replaced Tommy Maddox for the second consecutive week, but Stewart contributed 84 yards rushing, including a dazzling 28-yard touchdown jaunt.
With Stewart at quarterback, the Steelers were a grab-bag of trick plays, including a fake-punt run that gained a first down. But it wasn't the Steelers' trick plays that made the difference. It was their old-fashioned off-tackle smash with Jerome Bettis that broke the Jaguars' backs.
Bettis rushed for 86 yards and moved past John Riggins into 10th place on the NFL all-time rushing list, on a day when Bettis suffered a broken nose early in the game. He was the major force in a 219-yard rushing effort by the Steelers that dominated time of possession and left the Jaguars offense to stand on the sideline and watch.
"We didn't rush the ball, we didn't defend the rush, we didn't make third-down conversions. We had 21 snaps at halftime. It wasn't very good," Coughlin said.
The Jaguars' three-of-11 third-down-conversion rate was especially disappointing against a Steelers defense that entered the game as the NFL's second-worst third-down defense.
"We had an opportunity. It's just another example of too little, too late," Brunell said. "Pittsburgh plays very physical and they had a good game and we didn't execute. It's difficult when you come in with a good game plan and guys are ready to play and you're facing a good defense, and they're stuffing you."
But losing to the Steelers should not be confused with losing to the expansion Texans. The Steelers began the season as the favorite to win the AFC title, and though they stumbled early and have struggled recently, they are 7-4-1 and in the hunt for AFC homefield advantage for the playoffs.
At 5-7, the Jaguars' focus will be on avoiding their third consecutive losing season. To do that, the Jaguars will have to win three of their remaining four games.
"It certainly changes the outlook," Brunell said of the impact of today's loss on the Jaguars' fading playoff hopes. "I'm not going to pretend everything is OK. All indications are we are out of (playoffs contention) completely, and that's difficult this being the third year in a row. It's hard because we've got the guys. We've got very good football players, yet, we are not winning games we are needing to win. Are we a team capable of being in the playoffs this year? Yes, we are, but we're not and that's difficult."
Coughlin praised his team's effort.