Dewayne Washington returned two interceptions for touchdowns of 52 and 78 yards and the desperate Steelers won a game they couldn't afford to lose by beating Jacksonville 30-15 Sunday.
Washington stepped in front of Keenan McCardell for his 52-yard return on the Jaguars' second possession, then added his fifth career TD return with 34 seconds left and Mark Brunell frantically trying to drive Jacksonville for the tying score.
"I was trying too hard before, worrying about running with the ball before catching it," said Washington, who, by the Steelers' count, had dropped nine potential interceptions before Sunday.
Jacksonville led the NFL with a plus-10 turnover ratio until Brunell, who had thrown only six interceptions, uncharacteristically threw three -- two in the final minute.
The Steelers (7-4) rebounded from two losses to Tennessee in three weeks to beat the division-leading Jaguars (8-3) for the fourth year in a row and close to within a game of the lead.
"This one will stick with us. This one is going to hurt, not only because it's in the stretch that can make or break the season for us, but the fact it was Pittsburgh in Pittsburgh," said Mark runell, who threw three interceptions after having only six in his first 10 games.
They did it without a big day from Jerome Bettis, who had most of his 77 yards on a drive that led to one of Norm Johnson's three field goals. But they held Fred Taylor, coming off a three-touchdown game against Tampa Bay, to an ineffective 67 yards, and they shut out the AFC's No. 3 offense in the first half.
"When you're the king, you want to be king forever," linebacker Levon Kirkland said. "You have to realize people are going to come at you harder than most. We respected them, but we couldn't respect them too much."
| Coach Bill Cowher and linebacker Levon Kirkland know they still have a fighting chance to win the AFC Central. (AP) |
But the Steelers, who have never lost consecutive division games under coach Bill Cowher, controlled Jacksonville's big-play offense and got a succession of pivotal plays from a defense that allowed 41 points to Tennessee in its last division home game.
"It wasn't the Steelers, believe me," McCardell said. "We didn't come out and play like we're supposed to. We didn't execute like the Jaguars are supposed to."
Two came on successive plays. On the first play from scrimmage following Washington's first interception, Carlos Emmons fell on Taylor's fumble at the Steelers' 27 after Mike Logan's 53-yard kickoff return gave Jacksonville great field possession.
The Steelers went onto lead 13-0 at the half -- the Jaguars' first seven possessions ended with five punts and two turnovers -- and 23-7 in the fourth quarter on Kordell Stewart's 9-yard scoring pass to Mark Bruener with 8:59 remaining. Stewart was 25-of-36 for 208 yards in his third consecutive game without an interception.
Brunell, who has led four of his 11 career fourth-quarter comeback victories this season, answered with a 33-yard touchdown throw to Jimmy Smith and a two-point conversion pass to McCardell that sliced the lead to 23-15 with 7:04 to go. But the Jaguars' final two drives ended with interceptions.
"I'm disappointed in our performance at this time of the year and with so much at stake," Jaguars coach Tom Coughlin said. "They're certainly an aggressive team, but I don't think this ws the kind of performance Mark wanted to have in a game like this."
Johnson's field goals of 38, 29, 41 were pivotal because they came a week after his absence because of injury may have cost Pittsburgh its 23-14 loss at Tennessee.
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