JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Ben Roethlisberger threw two interceptions on his first 12 passes. The Pittsburgh Steelers failed to score in the first half for the first time in more than two years, and they still trailed by 10 approaching the 2-minute warning.
So when Big Ben muscled his way over the goal line with 5 seconds left for a 20-16 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars, he wasn’t sure where to rank this comeback.
“Horrible games that you find a way to win? Pretty special,” he said.
One week after Roethlisberger had a perfect quarterback rating, he overcame three interceptions and a 16-0 deficit by leading touchdown drives on the Steelers’ last two possessions, and Pittsburgh escaped with its sixth straight victory.
“Really, really awesome fight,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. “The bottom line in our business is winning, and we took care of business. Style points were quite ugly, or few, but we got the job done.”
Roethlisberger hit Antonio Brown on a 78-yard touchdown to get on the board, found JuJu Smith-Schuster on a pair of shoulder fades down the sidelines and took care of the final score on his own. The Steelers had one timeout from the 1 when Roethlisberger rolled to his right and barely got the ball across.
“I don’t know what option I am, but it’s way down the list,” he said. “You just find a way.”
The Steelers (7-2-1) likely ended any playoff hopes for Jacksonville (3-7), which beat them twice last year, including the divisional playoffs. The Jaguars, who controlled the game until the last five minutes, now have dropped six in a row.
As much as Roethlisberger led the Steelers, the defense gave him a chance.
Jacksonville ran only 11 plays in the fourth quarter for minus-7 yards, including three of their six sacks of Blake Bortles
“We have to be able to get first downs and close the game out,” Jaguars coach Doug Marrone said. “If you just had one first down on any of those drives, you had a chance to win that football game, and we weren’t able to do that.”
Leonard Fournette ran for 95 yards on 28 carries, and he caught two passes for 46 yards that led to the Jaguars’ only touchdown when he launched himself from the 4 and scored for a 16-0 lead with 2:09 left in the third quarter.
Roethlisberger, who now has 10 turnovers in his last three games against Jacksonville, took over from there.
After the long TD to Brown, Roethlisberger found tight end Vance McDonald in the back of the end zone to cut the lead to 16-13 with 2:28 remaining.
Pittsburgh kicked off and the Jaguars went three-and-out, and then Roethlisberger led a 68-yard drive. He hit Smith-Schuster on the left sideline for a 35-yard gain to the 27 that at least got the Steelers in field goal position.
James Conner, throttled in the running game, dropped a sure touchdown when he got behind linebacker Telvin Smith Sr., turning his eyes to goal line as the ball bounced off his hands. No matter. Roethlisberger hit Brown over the middle to the 2, and after a pair of penalties, he delivered the winner.
Roethlisberger was 27 of 47 for 314 yards, 170 of them in the fourth quarter.
Even with the early turnovers, Jacksonville only managed three field goals from Josh Lambo in the first half. Bortles was largely ineffective, throwing for just 104 yards. His biggest gains were to Fournette out of the backfield.
Pittsburgh came into the game tied for the league lead with 31 sacks and got to Bortles six times. Javon Hargrave and T.J. Watt each had two. Watt now has 17 career sacks, the most by a Steelers player in his first two seasons since Keith Willis, who had 15 in 1982 and 1983.
Two sacks, by Vince Williams and Cameron Heyward, came early in the fourth quarter after the Jags took over on the Pittsburgh 41.
“We were in this position last year and we gave up big plays at the end of the game,” Hargrave said, referring to the 45-42 playoff loss to Jacksonville. “So we knew we had to make stops. We did that gave our offense a chance to come back, and they did.”
One week after Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey tweeted after a loss to the Colts that “when I’m gone from here, y’all gone miss me,” he had his best game of the year. Ramsey had two interceptions, none bigger than in the end zone over Brown.
With the Steelers trailing 9-0 in the third quarter, Roethlisberger threw to Brown over the middle. Ramsay reached over Brown’s helmet and juggled the ball before pulling it in. He tried to run out of the end zone, stumbled and kept going until he was ruled down by contact.
Ramsey also broke across the middle on Brown and made a diving pick, somehow keeping the ball off the turf on a play initially ruled incomplete but overturned on review.
James Conner came into the game with 771 yards rushing, tops in the AFC. He didn’t have much room against Jacksonville, gaining 25 yards on nine attempts.
Jacksonville lost right guard A.J. Cann to a hamstring injury and he did not return. Tomlin said linebacker Anthony Chickillo hurt his ankle late in the game on a special teams play.
Steelers: On the road against the Denver Broncos next Sunday.
Jaguars: At the Buffalo Bills next Sunday.