It appeared to be the same game; the same game we saw last January when Ben Roethlisberger rallied the Steelers into the lead and then David Garrard drove the Jaguars to the game-winning field goal. This time, however, there was no 32-yard run on a quarterback draw, or phantom holding or purple hat in the postgame press conference. This night belonged to Roethlisberger, just as that cold winter night in Pittsburgh nine months ago belonged to Garrard.
Another Steelers-Jaguars game is in the books. Another classic to be remembered, and the enduring picture of this one will be of Roethlisberger swatting away defenders draped on his body and somehow finding a way to get his right arm free and muscle a third-down pass to Hines Ward for a gain of 18 yards and a first down at the Jaguars 13-yard line.
It was the play of the game. It was the game-winner, you might say, except for a drama that neither the Jaguars nor the media knew was unfolding.
This was the situation: The Jaguars led the game, 21-20, with 2:57 to play. The Steelers were at the Jaguars 31, which would've left Jeff Reed to attempt a field goal of about 48 yards. Just about everyone figured coach Mike Tomlin would play for the field goal, instead of risking an interception or a sack, and sacks were becoming an increasingly heightened risk.
What we didn't know, however, was that Reed had sustained a calf injury and was unable to kick. The Steelers were facing a must-make third-down, which only serves to make Roethlisberger's completion to Ward all the more dramatic. It was one of those NFL highlight moments, except, as Jack Del Rio said, "I don't get to have that big grin.
"There was one play out there that was very special that their quarterback made. You have to tip your hat to Big Ben. That was a heckuva play," Del Rio said.
Del Rio was so in awe of what Roethlisberger did on this night that the Jaguars coach somehow cut through his despair to praise Roethlisberger's performance.
"One of the things he does is extend plays. His body takes a beating and I don't know how long he can do it. He's like a horse back there. He shrugs guys and gets the ball off," Del Rio said.
Last January, Roethlisberger made a point of waiting for Garrard to finish a postgame TV interview on the field at Heinz Field. Roethlisberger stood off to the side and waited so he could congratulate Garrard and welcome him to the club of NFL playoff-winning quarterbacks. Sunday night, Garrard returned the compliment.
"There's nothing you can say about that but look in amazement. It was a truly amazing play. Guys were pulling him down to the ground and he threw it 20 yards downfield and on the money. He's a helluva quarterback and I have a lot of respect for him," Garrard said of Roethlisberger.
With Reed unable to kick, Roethlisberger needed to finish the drive, which he did three plays later. On third and five from the Jaguars eight-yard line, Roethlisberger arched a perfectly-thrown pass for the right-back corner of the end zone and the ball dropped softly into Ward's hands for a touchdown.
A night that began with a pick-six interception by Rashean Mathis concluded with 26 completions in 41 attempts, 309 yards, three touchdowns and a 100.6 passer rating.
"Their quarterback was outstanding at crunch time," Del Rio said.
It had to hurt to say it.