PITTSBURGH, Pa. – Senior writer John Oehser, senior correspondent Brian Sexton and team reporter Kainani Stevens offer quick thoughts on the Jaguars’ 20-10 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers at Acrisure Stadium in Pittsburgh, Pa., Sunday
John Oehser, Jaguars Senior Writer…
- Whew. The Jaguars' fifth consecutive victory wasn't pretty, but that's perhaps fitting as they reach the season's midway point and accompanying Week 9 bye. The Jaguars squandered multiple opportunities Sunday, and it was natural to wonder during a tense second half if the Jaguars had let the Steelers stay too long in the game. The Jaguars felt like the better team through much of the game, but scored just four times while driving into Steelers territory on nine of 10 possessions. The Jaguars also lost the giveaway-takeaway 3-2, which is the sort of statistic the Steelers often parlay into a towel-waving home victory. On this day, the Steelers did not do such parlaying because the Jaguars are a tough team that wins these kinds of games. "It's just a testament to our defense for one, then our offense being able to make the plays when we need them," Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence said. The Jaguars maintaining control of this game and grinding out another dogfight victory is a testament to something else: The maturity and toughness of a team that enters the bye leading the AFC South by two and a half games.
- Still gritty, still gutty. We've long since passed being surprised at the Jaguars' defense. It has turned into a front-line unit, and that showed again Sunday. The Jaguars played Sunday without cornerback Tyson Campbell and safety Andre Cisco – and while the Steelers' offense was hurt by the loss of quarterback Kenny Pickett near the end of the first half, a Jaguars defense that was characterized as a "hope" defense by Steelers wide receiver George Pickens this week proved again it doesn't have to hope to play winning football. The Jaguars held the Steelers without a first-quarter first down and never trailed despite trailing the giveaway-takeaway margin 3-0 after three quarter. Hat tip to safety Andrew Wingard, who was playing for Cisco and who had multiple big tackles – including a touchdown saver at the Jaguars' five-yard line late in the second half – before his fourth-quarter interception that stopped a potential tying drive and led to the game-clinching field goal late in the fourth quarter. And make no mistake: The hope comment? It resonated. "Going back to that hope thing, like I keep telling everybody, 'We were just hoping they would have came in here and put up a better fight than that, you know?''' safety Rayshawn Jenkins said.
Brian Sexton, Jaguars Senior Correspondent …
- Second best. The Jaguars' 6-2 start equals the 1998 team that started 6-2 and reached 8-2 after ten games. The 1999 team went 7-1. It wasn't pretty Sunday, but they never trailed and were never really threatened. They're on a five-game winning streak, which trailed only Kansas City at the game's end for longest active streak – plus they're perfect on the road this season, which is a great sign for a young football team. There's plenty to suggest this team is still a ways from their ceiling. They turned the ball over three times, twice in the red zone when the game was on the line, but they handled their business against a toothless Steelers bunch and have a two-and-a-half game lead on the rest of the AFC South at just about the midway point of a 17-game season.
- Day for defense. Ugly days in late October are the norm in western Pennsylvania and the Jaguars did their part with those three turnovers. But the defense responded by giving up only three points after those turnovers and made a critical fourth-quarter interception as backup quarterback Mitchell Trubisky was trying to rally the Steelers down 17-10. Pittsburgh couldn't run the ball, not unless you consider quarterback scrambles as rushing. The Steelers finished with 70 yards rushing, but their running backs managed only 42 yards on 17 attempts for just 2.4 yards per carry. That left the game in Pickett's and Trubisky's hands and neither had time to set their feet and throw as the Jaguars collapsed the pocket and made life difficult all day for both. This defense continues to do more than I thought possible. On Sunday in the 'Burgh, the unit did it without two starters in the secondary. The Jaguars are really good defensively no matter what the overall ranking says.
Kainani Stevens, Jaguars Team Reporter/Producer ...
- Same old, same old. The Jaguars fell into the same trap that hurt them against the New Orleans Saints by letting a team hang around in the second half. The defense dominated. They didn't allow a Steelers touchdown until the waning seconds of the third quarter. The Jaguars' offense looks anemic, save for running back Travis Etienne Jr. I will always give credit to the Jaguars for finding a way to win, but someday soon this trend will come back to bite them.
- ETN for MVP. An anemic Jaguars' offense was once again buoyed by Etienne. He was the lone bright spot on offense with over 150 all-purpose yards and the Jags' only touchdown of the game. He now has seven touchdowns so through eight games has already topped his touchdown total for the entire 2022 season. Etienne's worth became even more obvious when he briefly left the game with an ankle injury. During that time backup running back Tank Bigsby fumbled the ball for the team's third turnover of the day to that point. So many questions remain for the second half of the 2023 season, but Etienne is not one of them.
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