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Steelers worst-possible opponent for Jaguars


The Pittsburgh Steelers are not the team you want to play two days after a clear-the-air, players-only meeting.

Jerome Bettis is not the kind of running back you want to have to stop when you're tired.

LeVon Kirkland and Earl Holmes are not the kind of linebackers you want to see across the line of scrimmage when your offense is depleted and bewildered.

The Steelers' 24-13 win in Alltel Stadium Sunday ranks as one of the biggest upsets of the NFL season, but maybe it shouldn't be that surprising. The Jaguars are a hurting football team consumed by doubt. They were easy pickings for the Steelers' superior brute force.

That fact was made perfectly clear when Jaguars coach Tom Coughlin was faced with a critical decision in the second quarter: Decline the penalty and leave the Steelers facing fourth-and-two at the Jaguars five-yard line, or accept the penalty and give the Steelers another down (third-and-12 at the 15).

Press box opinion was that the Steelers would've attempted a field goal on fourth-and-two. Coughlin was afraid they would go for the first down, meaning they would ram Bettis into the line of scrimmage one more time.

Conventional wisdom called for Coughlin to decline the penalty; dare the Steelers to go for the sticks. It was clearly the right decision, but Coughlin didn't have enough confidence in his defense's ability to stop the Steelers. Already, he sensed his troops were physically beaten.

"Our people said it was fourth-and-one-and-a-half. I thought we were better off taking the penalty. I was pretty sure they would go for it on fourth down, and I thought the percentages were in their favor," Coughlin explained.

Yeah, you might say the percentages were in the Steelers' favor. At game's end, the Steelers had rushed for 209 yards to the Jaguars' franchise-low 26 yards.

Cry if you will about play-calling, or dropped passes, or mental errors, but the fact of the matter is you don't win, shouldn't win, when you are dominated on both lines of scrimmage the way the Jaguars were dominated by the Steelers. Mark Brunell endured one of the worst days of his career, but Brunell was almost a non-player in this game. He didn't stand a chance, and neither did Fred Taylor.

"That team was 0-3 and had lost two heartbreakers. They played better than us. They made plays. We didn't do jack up front, and it's embarrassing," offensive tackle Tony Boselli said.

On a turf where they had never previously won, and with arguably the worst team they've ever brought to Jacksonville, the 10-point underdog Steelers were so physically superior to the Jaguars that it makes you wonder, makes you fear, what's ahead for this team.

"It gets you so fired up that it makes you feel like you can do anything," Boselli said of the awareness that you are stuffing the ball down your opponent's throat. "They got confident. We got one-dimensional. That's what 'Blitzburgh' wants. Every time we've ever beaten that team, it's because we ran the ball and controlled the clock," Boselli added.

When you play the Steelers, you must be prepared to play their style of football. They play as no one else in football plays. They are a primitive team, all brawn and no brain. The Steelers make you block and they make you tackle, and if you don't do both, the Steelers' energy surges.

The state of the Jaguars was such that they were not prepared to play such a game. It is a depleted team; a demoralized team that hadn't recovered physically or mentally from its humiliating loss in Indianapolis only six days earlier. Now, they have a new humiliation. They lost, were dominated, by the previously-winless Steelers, whose offensive woes had become a matter of comic relief.

There was nothing comical about Bettis and Chris Fuamatu Ma'afala Sunday. Their power was frightening.

On the other side of the ball, Kirkland, Holmes and Dewayne Washington played as no defensive trio had against the Jaguars this season. Kirkland and Holmes helped stifle the Jaguars running game, and Washington did what no cornerback has done, what no one thought could be done. Washington held Jimmy Smith to two harmless pass receptions for 20 measly yards.

Immediately, there was a great rush to explain all of this. What happened? How could this have happened?

"Surprising is the fact that we're being out-physicalled as we are," Coughlin said. "We weren't able to do much with each other in training camp because of the offensive line (injuries), and we weren't able to get our defense ready to play either."

The translation is very simple. This team has gotten soft.

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