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Not a rivalry but what a game!


Fred Taylor says it's not a rivalry and a lot of players on both teams agree with Taylor. The Jaguars and the Steelers are two teams in different divisions and they each have their own rivals. So what is it about these two teams that make for such memorable encounters?

The ingredients are many. Start with great plays at dramatic moments: Chris Hudson running down the sideline with a blocked kick and Jerome Bettis scoring in overtime. Stir in a little intrigue: Gregg Lloyd claiming that his clothesline of Keenan McCardell was in retaliation for a harassing phone call McCardell had made to Lloyd's residence earlier in the week. Now mix it all with a controversial official's no-call and NFL Director of Officials Mike Pereira's proclamation that, indeed, a penalty should've been called.

"I'm still looking for a flag," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin joked to reporters earlier this week. Tomlin, of course, was referring to tackle Khalif Barnes' choke hold on a Steelers linebacker that went undetected and allowed David Garrard's game-winning 32-yard run in last year's playoffs.

Tomlin corrected Pereira.

"There wasn't (a flag) so it wasn't holding. We don't cry over spilled milk. Those guys made the plays necessary to win a tough football game," Tomlin said.

The two teams, old "rivals" from their days together in the AFC Central, meet again Sunday night in Jacksonville Municipal Stadium in a nationally-televised game that appears as though it could be as flavorful as the two games the two teams played against each other last year. The Jaguars, of course, won both of those games.

"We're a different football team," Tomlin said.

Really? Actually, the Steelers appear to be the same football team the Jaguars faced in the playoffs.

Once again, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger will be without star running back Willie Parker and, once again, Roethlisberger is playing behind a patchwork offensive line that's doing a great imitation of a sieve. Roethlisberger has been sacked 11 times in the Steelers' last two games.

If there's a difference between these Steelers and last year's Steelers, it's that this year's version includes a defense on the rise. The Steelers are currently number two in overall defense; fourth against the run and third against the pass.

It is the Steelers' pass-rush, however, that is the biggest difference between last year's team and this year's. The Steelers are number three in the league in sacks per pass play and have a group of young, blitzing linebackers, led by James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley, who are making game-changing plays.

The Steelers have been able to ascend to such lofty heights on defense without the services of defensive linemen Casey Hampton and Brett Keisel. When Hampton and Keisel return, look out.

They can't help the Steelers this week, however, and that's the big problem Tomlin faces for this game. His team is on a short week and coming off a vicious Monday night game against the Ravens, who the Steelers defeated in overtime. This week's game will mark only the fifth time in NFL history that two teams coming off overtime wins will have faced each other the subsequent week.

"It's a real issue," Tomlin said of his injury situation, which is likely to see the Steelers start journeyman running back Mewelde Moore on Sunday. "It's a legitimate issue but it's as much a part of the game as blocking and tackling and the teams that have been successful are the ones that make quick adjustments and understand that the standard of expectation doesn't change."

That explains perfectly the situation coach Jack Del Rio experienced through the first month of the season. Del Rio refers to it as an "early storm" and the Jaguars weathered it by patching in players where they lost starters and rebounding from an 0-2 start to even their record at 2-2.

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