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Pro Football Week 12 | PITTSBURGH 30, JACKSONVILLE

Steelers Tighten Race in AFC Central

November 23, 1998|From Associated Press

PITTSBURGH — The Jacksonville Jaguars' refrain is always the same after they play in Pittsburgh: Wait till next year.

Dewayne Washington returned two interceptions for touchdowns of 52 and 78 yards Sunday and the desperate Pittsburgh Steelers won a game they couldn't afford to lose by defeating the Jaguars, 30-15, to tighten the AFC Central race.

Rebounding from two losses in three weeks to the Tennessee Oilers, the Steelers (7-4) defeated the division-leading Jaguars (8-3) in Three Rivers Stadium for the fourth year in a row to pull 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 Brunell, who had three passes intercepted after having only six picked off in his first 10 games.

A loss would have dropped the four-time defending division champion Steelers three games behind with five to play and virtually forced them to play for a wild-card berth.

"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."

Washington, criticized for frequently dropping seemingly easy interceptions, stepped in front of Keenan McCardell for his 52-yard return on Jacksonville's second possession.

He had the fifth touchdown return of his career with 34 seconds to play and Jacksonville trying to drive 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 committing four, including Fred Taylor's fumble at the Steeler 27. Mike Logan had just put the Jaguars into scoring range with a 53-yard kickoff return.

"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."

The Steelers won without a big game from Jerome Bettis, who ran for most of his 77 yards on a drive that led to one of Norm Johnson's three field goals.

But they held Taylor to an ineffective 67 yards, and they shut out the AFC's No. 3 offense in the first half while building a 13-0 lead.

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