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Garrard and Jaguars run it as drawn

Quarterback gains 32 yards on a draw play to set up Scobee's winning field goal as Jacksonville scrambles past Steelers, 31-29, in wild-card game.

January 06, 2008|Sam Farmer | Times Staff Writer

PITTSBURGH -- With the Jacksonville Jaguars chasing NFL history, the Pittsburgh Steelers wound up chasing David Garrard.

And Garrard won.

Proving he has moves to go with his muscle, the 245-pound quarterback paved the way for a 31-29 victory Saturday in a raucous wild-card game at Heinz Field.

With less than two minutes remaining, at least 10,000 Terrible Towels swirling at full speed, and Jacksonville trying to do what no team had done -- win at Pittsburgh twice in the same season -- Garrard made a fourth-and-two play that's sure to go down as one of the greatest in franchise history.

He took the shotgun snap, dodged a pass rusher and broke loose up the middle on a quarterback draw for a 32-yard gain, shattering the resolve of the comeback-minded Steelers.

When they finally caught him at their 11-yard line, Pittsburgh defenders vainly punched at the ball, hoping to pop it loose from his smothering grip.

"I felt the guy trying to knock it out from behind, but he wasn't going to do that," Garrard said. "I was holding that like it was my baby boy."

That didn't win the game, but it brought the Jaguars to the brink. It was kicker Josh Scobee who gave Jacksonville the lead for good, making a 25-yard field goal with 37 seconds to play. History will call that kick a chip shot. Scobee will recall it as something far more daunting, considering the chewed-up condition of the hardscrabble field.

"There's no gimme out there," Scobee said. "The previous time we played here, we had trouble with a few extra points. So it just goes to show you how hard it is to kick on this field. I have a lot of respect for [Steelers kicker] Jeff Reed and the guys who have to do this on a regular basis."

The Jaguars need not worry about returning for a third time. Despite blowing an 18-point lead in the fourth quarter, setting the stage for what looked like a history-making comeback for the Steelers, the Jaguars are moving on.

Where they play next week depends on the outcome of today's game between Tennessee and San Diego. If the Chargers win, the Jaguars will play Saturday at New England. If the Titans win, it's a Sunday game at AFC South rival Indianapolis for Jacksonville, which was swept by the Colts in the regular season.

Asked if his team can be the one that finally defeats the Patriots, Garrard said: "We know that if we bring our A-game, eliminate mistakes and play with everything that we've got -- because we're going to have to -- then we've got a great chance."

A huge factor for the Jaguars was the play of former UCLA standout Maurice Jones-Drew, who rolled up 168 yards of total offense with two touchdowns, one rushing and another receiving. He might have scored a third, on a 96-yard kickoff return, but was caught a yard short of the end zone.

When Jones-Drew scored his second touchdown, on a 10-yard run late in the third quarter, the Jaguars had a 28-10 lead and had a lot of drizzle-dampened Steelers fans heading for the exits.

But it wasn't over. Not even close. Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who had had a horrible game to that point, came alive. He started connecting with receiver Hines Ward and tight end Heath Miller, closing a gap that once looked impossibly wide.

Three consecutive touchdowns, and all of a sudden Pittsburgh didn't trail by 18 but led by one, 29-28. What killed the Steelers were a pair of failed two-point conversions. Make one of those, and Scobee is kicking to force overtime, not to win. They actually did convert one two-point attempt, but it was wiped out by a holding penalty.

True, if Pittsburgh had kicked a pair of extra points instead, a game decided by two points might have ended differently. But at the time, the conversion tries were the logical way to go.

Said an exasperated Pittsburgh Coach Mike Tomlin: "If I had a crystal ball and I knew we were going to lose by two, I probably would have kicked the extra point."

Instead, the Steelers have the off-season to kick themselves.

To motivate his players in the days leading up to the game, Tomlin went to the airwaves. He had a replay of the Dec. 16 loss to the Jaguars playing on TV sets throughout team headquarters -- a self-imposed haunting to remind every player just how bad that 29-22 defeat felt.

Of course, this one felt worse for them. But they certainly still have the support of their fans. In a 2006 Harris Poll, the Steelers were the favorite NFL team among adults who follow pro football, getting the vote of 16% of those surveyed. The Jaguars, meanwhile, were the least favorite, drawing a scant 1%.

But these are the playoffs, not the prom court.

And look who's still dancing.

sam.farmer@latimes.com

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