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10/17/2011 5:33 AM EDT
Mendenhall helps Steelers hold off Jaguars 17-13
PITTSBURGH 17, JACKSONVILLE 13

By WILL GRAVES
AP Sports Writer

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Mike Tomlin isn't ready to say the Pittsburgh
Steelers are back. Not after watching his team sleepwalk through
the second half against Jacksonville on Sunday.

"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.

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