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Open Locker Room: One that got away

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JACKSONVILLE – Gus Bradley saw improvement Sunday.

And no question after four consecutive one-sided losses for the Jaguars to start the season, a 17-9 home loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers showed tangible progress.

The offense had extended drives, though they ended in field goals. Bradley said the defense "felt better," too, but the Jaguars' second-year head coach said after a fifth consecutive loss to start the 2014 season, it wasn't time to think in those terms.

"There's a feeling of disappointment," Bradley said after the Steelers took a four-point halftime lead and never trailed in the second half of a game played in front of 66,198 at EverBank Field.

"We missed one here."

That was the general tone of the Jaguars' locker room, that while there indeed was improvement on Sunday it is increasingly difficult to take solace in progress without victory.

"It's tough, man," defensive tackle Roy Miller said. "You put all the work in and you believe you've got a chance and it's the fifth one in a row. Everybody else looks at it as a game, but it's part of who I am. Being a leader of the team, it hurts."

Much of Bradley's focus post-game was on a defense that showed improvement by any measure.

The Jaguars entered the game last in the NFL yards, passing yards and points allowed, but on Sunday held an efficient offense with elite skill players – quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, running back Le'Veon Bell and wide receiver Antonio Brown – to a field goal and a first-half touchdown.

"We're not satisfied with where we're at obviously, because we didn't get the end result we wanted, but it felt better defensively," Bradley said.

Roethlisberger completed 26 of 36 passes for 271 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions, but the Jaguars sacked him four times. Two of those sacks came from second-year defensive tackle Abry Jones, including one in the fourth quarter that forced a fumble deep in Jaguars territory.

Brown was targeted 12 times, catching five passes for 85 yards.

"Defensively, I thought we played better," Bradley said.

Bradley also said that the secondary overall played tighter coverage. That was an area of emphasis throughout the week after the Jaguars allowed three touchdown passes of more than 20 yards to San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers.

The defense kept the Jaguars in the game with an offense that produced 243 yards and three field goals by kicker Josh Scobee.

Rookie quarterback Blake Bortles completed 22 of 36 passes for 191 yards and no touchdowns with two interceptions. That marked the third time in as many appearances Bortles has thrown two interceptions, with one Sunday turning into a 23-yard return for a touchdown by cornerback Brice McCain.

Bortles, who passed to the right side of the field to rookie wide receiver Allen Hurns, said he checked out of a run to the pass play.

"I should have stayed with the play that was called, but it was just a bad read by me," Bortles said.

That play gave the Steelers a 17-9 lead, and though the Jaguars got possession twice more with a chance to tie, they managed just one more first down and never got past their 40.

"We had chances," Bradley said. "We just didn't play good enough in certain situations. There were some plays we left on the field. It was marked improvement, but we're still not there yet."

PLAYER OF THE GAME

Abry Jones, defensive tackle, Jaguars

The second-year veteran registered the first two sacks of his NFL career.

With the Jaguars playing their second-team defensive line as a group on multiple series Sunday, Jones—an undrafted free agent rookie last season – played extensively along with ends Tyson Alualu and Andre Branch and tackle Ziggy Hood.

Jones registered a sack that helped stop a Steelers drive early in the second quarter, then sacked Roethlisberger early in the fourth quarter, forcing a fumble that gave the Jaguars momentum trailing 10-9.

Jones finished with four tackles, a tackle for loss and a hurry with two sacks and a forced fumble.

"I felt through the whole game that we needed a big play because we needed something to help turn the game over to our way," Jones said. "When the opportunity came, I was just lucky enough to get the ball."

PLAYS OF THE GAME

Offense:The Jaguars were steady at times on Sunday, but had few explosive plays. Perhaps the biggest play offensively came from rookie running back Storm Johnson, who ran over left end for a 20-yard gain to start a long drive for a field goal in the fourth quarter.

Defense:The defense had a formidable effort, holding the Steelers to one touchdown. The biggest play came when Jones sacked Roethlisberger to force a fourth-quarter fumble that defensive end Andre Branch recovered at the Jaguars 17. That held the Steelers' lead to 10-9 at that point.

Special teams: Scobee was three for three on field goals, converting from 43, 35 and 36 yards. The 36-yarder pulled the Jaguars to within one, 10-9.

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QUOTE OF THE GAME

"As a team, we need to finish better."

--- Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley

Images from the first half of the Week 5 matchup between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Jacksonville Jaguars

QUOTABLE

1.Safety Johnathan Cyprien: "I think we should continue to do what we're doing but just play at a higher level and execute it even better than what we're doing. We do play some press and we do play some zone, but I believe we're playing the defense that works so I think we need to continue to play better."

2.Bortles: "They didn't do a whole lot that caught us off guard. We were prepared and ready and I think we did a good job up front and the receivers did a really good job winning in man coverage and one-on-one. There were some good things. There were some good things to learn from—good and bad."

2.Cornerback Demetrius McCray: "I think we made a step forward, we held them to nine points and we played pretty good, but there are still some things to correct and we will get them corrected."

LOOKING ON . . .

1.Johnson rushed for 27 yards on four carries in his first NFL appearance, and was in the game on the Jaguars' final drive with the team trailing by eight points. He ran hard and appeared to hit holes with authority, running 20 yards to start a second-half field-goal drive. "I thought he did a good job," Bradley said. "His objective is we have to gain trust in him. He had a couple of good weeks of practice and we gave him an opportunity. We'll evaluate him from here on." …

2.McCray, making his second career start in place of Dwayne Gratz (concussion), covered Brown much of the game, making several plays to help keep the dynamic wide receiver without a touchdown. Brown entered the game with five touchdowns for the season. "He knew he was going to be the starter," Bradley said of McCray. "I felt like he competed." …

3.Second-year wide receiver Ace Sanders made his 2014 debut Sunday after a four-game suspension to start the season. He caught two passes for 12 yards and returned three punts for a 4.7-yard average. Bradley said of Sanders' returning, "I think we have some work to do," adding that he wants to see less "east and west" returning and more north and south." Sanders agreed, saying, "We definitely need more than that.  They did a good job covering, but I have to trust it. I have to do what I know."

4.Jaguars rookie wide receiver Allen Hurns caught four passes for 26 yards, but also dropped three passes. He also had a holding penalty that negated a nine-yard run by Johnson. "If the ball comes our way, we have to make those plays," Hurns said. "If you're a rookie, or in your second year, drops aren't allowed." …

Images from the second half of the Jacksonville Jaguars matchup with the Pittsburgh Steelers

INJURY UPDATE

Jaguars linebacker Dekoda Watson sustained a sprained shoulder in the second half and did not return. Running back Jordan Todman sustained an ankle injury in the fourth quarter, and though he did not return he would have had the game continued.

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WHAT'S NEXT

The Jaguars will visit the Tennessee Titans at LP Field in Nashville Sunday at 1 p.m.

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