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Will this be another classic?


They produce classics. That's what happens when the Jaguars and the Steelers get together, as they will on Monday night in Alltel Stadium.

Consider these four treasures:

• Sept. 22, 1997—The Jaguars block a Steelers field goal attempt on the final play of the game and Chris Hudson returns the block for a touchdown in a 30-21 victory in Jacksonville's first-ever Monday night telecast.

• Oct. 26, 1997—The Steelers return the favor with a 23-17 victory, when Jerome Bettis scores in overtime. It is voted one of the greatest games in Three Rivers Stadium history.

• Dec. 4, 2004—Rookie quarterback Ben Roethlisberger drives the Steelers down the field in the final minute and a half of the game, and the Steelers kick the game-winner with 18 seconds to play in a 17-16 win.

• Oct. 16, 2005—Rashean Mathis intercepts a Tommy Maddox pass and returns it 41 yards for a game-winning touchdown in overtime, in the Jaguars' 23-17 win at Heinz Field.

So what will Monday night's game produce? Another classic? Why not?

"I know there's history behind the name," Mathis said this week of the Steelers. "They won the Super Bowl. They were able to keep the name going."

Yeah, the team that's coming to Jacksonville this weekend is last season's Super Bowl champion. They accomplished that feat by becoming the first wild-card team in NFL history to win three playoff games on the road and win the big game, too.

The Steelers are on a nine-game winning streak, counting, of course, their four postseason wins. The Jaguars have won nine of their last 10 regular-season games, including six of their last seven home games. These are, clearly, two hot teams.

"They're good players. We're good players. It's going to be a good match," Jaguars defensive tackle Marcus Stroud said.

"We realize they're a terrific football team. It's been a good football team for awhile," Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio said of the Steelers.

Del Rio and Steelers coach Bill Cowher each have some health issues heading into this game. Del Rio lost defensive end Reggie Hayward for the season in the season-opening win over Dallas, and Stroud continues to nurse an ankle sprain that cut his playing time last Sunday. Middle linebacker Mike Peterson has missed practice time this week as he continues to nurse a knee sprain, and defensive end Paul Spicer popped up on the injury report as "questionable" with a groin strain.

Cowher's main issue is the status of Roethlisberger, who missed the Steelers' season-opening win over the Dolphins due to appendectomy surgery at the start of the week. Roethlisberger is less than two weeks into his recovery from the surgery, but he's listed as "questionable" for this game and is expected to be the starter.

"We'd like not to be banged up but we are and we have to fight through it. Nobody is going to feel sorry for you in this league," Del Rio said.

"He's on track," Cowher said of Roethlisberger's progress toward playing.

Roethlisberger and star wide receiver Hines Ward did not play when the Jaguars won in Pittsburgh last season. Ward is "probable" for this game with the same nagging hamstring that kept him out of last year's game, and he expects Roethlisberger to play, too.

"He's not going to go out there and practice and not play. He's going to give it a shot and see how he feels," Ward said of Roethlisberger.

The Steelers have played in Jacksonville in September on three previous occasions and lost all three of those games, by a combined 75-33 score. Ward, however, dismissed the notion the Steelers might struggle in the heat and humidity on Monday night.

"I don't see it as being a problem. It's hot in Pittsburgh. A lot of teams like to put us in black uniforms when we go on the road. It's all a mindset. For us, we don't really concern ourselves with the heat," Ward said.

One issue the two teams share is the importance of the games that immediately follow this one. The Steelers will host the Bengals in a key AFC North matchup, and the Jaguars will travel to Indianapolis for a similarly important game against the Jaguars' chief AFC South rival.

The winner of Monday night's game is going to be in a much better mood to begin short-week preparations for their next game.

"They're all important. Our approach is to take them one at a time and put everything we have into each effort," Del Rio said. "We both need to win. It's week two but who knows?"

Maybe the Steelers and Jaguars will face each other twice this season. Wouldn't that be nice?

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