Mendenhall Helps Steelers Hold Off Jaguars 17-13

“The big challenges lie ahead,” the Steelers coach said after a 17-13 win over the Jaguars. “We need to prepare for them.”

The Jaguars gave the defending AFC champions plenty to work on.

Jacksonville (1-5) dropped its fifth straight to match the franchise’s longest losing streak in a decade, but it was the Steelers (4-2) who were apologizing after an agonizing 30 minutes in which they nearly frittered away a commanding lead.

“If you get out to a 17-point lead and get comfortable, you take it off their throat,” Pittsburgh wide receiver Mike Wallace said. “We have to keep the same intensity the whole game. We started out with a lot of intensity and then we fell off a little bit.”

And Jacksonville nearly took advantage.

Rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert led a methodical comeback that didn’t end until his desperation heave on the game’s final play bounced harmlessly to the ground in the back of the end zone.

“The biggest thing is that we gave ourselves a chance,” Gabbert said. “We had an opportunity to win the football game at the end and we had to capitalize on that opportunity.”

Gabbert completed 12 of 26 passes for 109 yards and a touchdown — and even though he remains winless as a starter, the Jaguars remain competitive and upbeat. In the sad-sack AFC South, Jacksonville remains just two games out of first place.

“I guess the growing theme around here is that we’re so close,” wide receiver Mike Thomas said. “We’re doing some good things, but we’re not doing enough to finish the deal.”

It would help if the Jaguars started better. Pittsburgh overwhelmed Jacksonville in the first half, outgaining the Jaguars 315-68. Yet all that dominance translated into just a two-touchdown lead.

Then the Steelers let off the gas and nearly ended up empty in more ways than one.

The offense managed just 70 yards after halftime and All-Pro safety Troy Polamalu sat out Pittsburgh’s final two defensive series after experiencing concussion-like symptoms after stuffing Jacksonville’s Maurice Jones-Drew on a critical third down.

Tomlin said Polamalu was held out as a precaution. The Steelers didn’t need him to hold off Jacksonville, though the road gets significantly tougher over the next few weeks. Pittsburgh travels to Arizona next Sunday then hosts New England and Baltimore in what will be the season’s next litmus test.

If the Steelers play the way they did in the first half against the Jaguars, they can make some noise. If they play the way they did in the second half, they’re in trouble.

“It’s frustrating because my expectations for this offense are high,” quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said.

Pittsburgh appeared to be living up to them for a half. Roethlisberger hit Mike Wallace for a 28-yard touchdown pass and Rashard Mendenhall ripped off a career-best 68-yard run and scored a touchdown a week after sitting out a victory over Tennessee with a hamstring injury.

Mendenhall finished with 146 yards on 23 carries, while Roethlisberger passed for 200 yards and a score. But after the break, Mendenhall needed 11 carries to get 33 yards and Roethlisberger completed just one pass.

That allowed the Jaguars, who came in last in the league in total offense and passing offense, and 31st in scoring, to hang around.

“We didn’t play the style of football that we like to play in the second half,” Tomlin said. “All that being said … we made the necessary plays at the end.”

And Jacksonville didn’t — again.

The Jaguars haven’t lost five straight since 2001, when Gabbert was 12. He’s 22 now, and impatient. Jacksonville didn’t turn the ball over and Gabbert stood his ground behind a rebuilt offensive line and a Pittsburgh pass rush that sacked him five times. It was a step forward, just not in the win column.

“We just have to score more points and come out with a sense of urgency in the first half like we did in the second half,” Gabbert said.

The Steelers have the opposite problem. They’ve won four of five, but have shown only flashes of their usual form. They know it’s time to get going.

“We’re going to get better, but we’re not going to apologize for this win,” wide receiver Hines Ward said. “We won that game. That’s all that matters.”

Notes: Ward caught three passes for 47 yards to move past Michael Irvin and into 19th place on the yards receiving list. Ward now has 11,939 yards. … New Jacksonville punter Nick Harris, signed last week, averaged 42.3 yards on seven punts. … Scobee’s two field goals gave him field goals in 14 straight games, a team record. … Pittsburgh G Doug Legursky left in the second quarter with a dislocated toe.

Garrard and Jaguars Add to Cowboys’ Woes

Garrard tied a club record with four touchdown passes and ran for another while narrowly missing a perfect quarterback rating, leading the Jaguars to a 35-17 victory over the Cowboys on Sunday.

Tony Romo could only watch from the sideline, his left arm in a sling because of a broken collarbone, as the Cowboys (1-6) continued their worst start since 1989. The disturbing part for Dallas is that this one was not even close; all previous losses were by a touchdown or less. It was not even as close as the final score suggests.

“I’m dumbfounded,” owner said.

Coach Wade Phillips normally can find a silver lining in anything, no matter how meaningless, such his new starting quarterback, Jon Kitna, throwing for 379 yards or Dallas scoring two fourth-quarter touchdowns. He was absolutely deflated this time, his voice lacking any energy.

“I’m distraught, to say the least,” Phillips said. “I’ve got talented players and I’m not getting them to play well enough. To me, that’s the root of the problem.”

The Cowboys trailed by 14-3 and were inside the 1-yard line just before halftime when Kitna turned right and Marion Barber went left. There was a handoff, a collision and an easy goal-line stand for Jacksonville (4-4). Garrard opened the second half with touchdowns on his first two drives, making it 28-3, and the result never was in doubt again.

The Jaguars were coming off losses by 22 and 27 points, with Garrard having missed the last game recovering from a concussion. He completed his first 12 passes, finally misfiring early in the third quarter only to avoid a sack. He threw his third touchdown on the next snap. He finished 17 of 21 for 260 yards. Even with three sacks and a lost fumble, his rating was 157.8; perfect is 158.3.

¶ passed for 305 yards and 2 touchdowns and the host beat the , 20-10.

Brees was 20 of 22 for 191 yards in the second half, breaking open a defensive struggle in which no team scored a touchdown through the first three quarters.

Brees’s first touchdown pass went to Marques Colston for 16 yards and the second went for 8 yards to Lance Moore with 2 minutes 37 seconds left.

Leigh Torrence then intercepted to seal it for the Saints (5-3).

Roethlisberger was 17 of 28 for 195 yards for the Steelers (5-2).

Kickers Save the Day

Dan Carpenter kicked five field goals for the second straight game, and the visiting made them stand up in beating the , 22-14, to remain perfect on the road. Last week, the Dolphins (4-3) lost after a disputed play. Ben Roethlisberger’s touchdown was ruled a fumble on review, but the Steelers kept the ball and kicked a field goal for a 23-22 win, offsetting Carpenter’s five field goals.

The Bengals (2-5) failed to get a first down in the third quarter and were shut out in the second half. Their final chance ended with ’s interception with 2:43 to go.

¶Ryan Succop kicked a 34-yard field goal as time expired in overtime to lift the host over the winless , 13-10.

Succop had a chance to win the game with 3:38 to go in overtime, but his 39-yard attempt with 3:38 to go hooked left at the last instant.

Buffalo’s Rian Lindell hit what would have been a 53-yard winner earlier in the overtime, but the kick was nullified because the Chiefs (5-2) had called their last time out. Forced to do it again, Lindell kicked a wobbler that hit the right upright.

The Bills (0-7)are off to the third-worst start in franchise history.

Finding a Rhythm

Matthew Stafford made the most of his return. He threw four touchdown passes, including a 10-yarder to Calvin Johnson with 3 minutes 12 seconds left, and the host went on to score 9 points in 14 seconds to turn a close game into a 37-25 win over the .

The Redskins (4-4) turned the ball over on downs after Johnson’s career-high third score. Washington Coach then put Rex Grossman in for an apparently healthy , and he fumbled on his first play with Ndamukong Suh returning it for a touchdown.

The Lions (2-5) were trailing late in the game with Alphonso Smith stepped in front of McNabb’s pass at the Redskins’ 26 to set up the go-ahead touchdown.

Stafford played for the first time since Week 1, when he separated his right shoulder on a sack at Chicago. He finished 26 of 45 for 212 yards and had an interception.

¶Troy Smith needed three quarters to find his range in his first start as a 49er. Once he did, San Francisco rallied to victory in the ’s fourth regular-season game in London.

He completed three long passes in the fourth quarter to lead the 49ers (2-6) to a 24-16 win over the (2-6).

¶Philip Rivers threw a go-ahead, 48-yard touchdown pass to Antonio Gates midway through the third quarter and the host rallied for a 33-25 win against the , who lost quarterback Vince Young to another injury.

San Diego (3-5) snapped a three-game losing streak and won its eighth straight game against Tennessee dating to 1993. The Titans (5-3) had their three-game winning streak snapped. San Diego is the only team Titans Coach Steve Fisher has not beaten.

Young was hurt while scrambling with less than six minutes to play and had to be helped off the field.

Around the League

Sam Bradford threw two touchdown passes and the ’ defense forced four turnovers in a 20-10 victory against the visiting .

Bradford threw a 2-yard scoring pass to Danny Amendola in the second quarter and a 23-yard touchdown pass to Daniel Fells in the fourth as the Rams — an N.F.L.-worst 1-15 last season — reached the midway point at 4-4.

¶Jason Campbell threw for 310 yards and 2 touchdowns, and Oakland’s defense delivered helped the host to a 33-3 victory against the . Oakland (4-4) did not allow a first down until more than 27 minutes into the game and gave up just 162 yards of offense to the Seahawks (4-3).

¶Aqib Talib intercepted two passes, returning one 45 yards for a touchdown and saving the game with the other, and the Buccaneers (5-2) rallied from a fourth-quarter deficit for the fourth time this season to secure a 38-35 victory against the host Cardinals (3-4).

Correction: November 3, 2010

An Associated Press report on Monday about Sunday’s N.F.L. games misstated, in some editions, the Dallas Cowboys’ record after a 35-17 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars. That loss made them 1-6, not 1-5. The error was repeated in a picture caption.