By MARK LONG
AP Sports Writer
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) A week after a late-game debacle on defense, the Pittsburgh Steelers showed they can finish.READ MORE: Man Shot In Sheraden Overnight, Taken To Hospital
And the same unit that was embarrassed at home against Tampa Bay surely strutted as it left EverBank Field in Jacksonville.
Brice McCain returned an interception 22 yards for a touchdown, helping the Steelers overcome a mediocre offensive performance and beat the winless Jaguars 17-9 Sunday.
McCain stepped in front of receiver Allen Hurns early in the fourth quarter, picked off rookie Blake Bortles’ wobbly sideline pass and went untouched the other way.
It was just what the Steelers (3-2) needed to gain a little breathing room in a game much tighter than they probably expected.
“I like the way we finished, especially when you consider that we didn’t do a good job of it last week and it cost us the game,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. “The defense had the necessary stop there in the latter part of the game, created a turnover and put points on the board for us.”
Trailing by eight, the Jaguars (0-5) forced a punt and got the ball back. But Bortles failed to muster a first down.
Ben Roethlisberger closed it out from there, directing a four-minute drive that ran out the clock.
Roethlisberger completed 26 of 36 passes for 273 yards and a touchdown. His 1-yard scoring pass to tight end Michael Palmer put the Steelers up 10-3 late in the second quarter.
Roethlisberger also connected on 15 of his final 17 passes.
But much of the postgame talk was about McCain’s game-changing play.
“Any time you get a turnover, it’s huge,” Steelers cornerback Cortez Allen said. “But any time you get a turnover and score off it, it’s bigger. That turnover swung the momentum back in our favor.”
Pittsburgh’s defense looked somewhat suspect in the first four games, giving up 350 yards and 25 points a game.
The defense seemed to return to form against Jacksonville – no surprise given defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau’s history against rookie quarterbacks.
The Jaguars finished with 243 yards and were 3 of 12 on third-down conversions. The Steelers improved to 18-2 against rookie QBs since LeBeau returned in 2004. McCain’s pick was the highlight.READ MORE: Man Convicted In Slayings Of Ohio Couple, Unborn Child
“Anytime you can get an interception, it gets you off the field and that’s what you aim to do,” he said. “When you can score, it makes it that much better.”
The Jaguars didn’t want a moral victory, but surely they will try to build on a close loss after dropping their past five games by double digits.
Jacksonville was in this one from start to finish.
Making his first start at home, Bortles completed 22 of 36 passes for 191 yards. He was hampered by several dropped passes – including three by Hurns – and a handful of untimely penalties. But Bortles’ second interception was the biggest mistake.
“Bad read, bad throw,” Bortles said.
Hurns dropped passes on three of Jacksonville’s first four possessions. He also was flagged for offensive holding.
“I’m very disappointed,” Hurns said. “You’ve got to be accountable. When the ball’s coming to you, you’ve got to make those plays. So at the end of the day it’s not acceptable. It’s all about being consistent. When the plays come to you, you’ve got to make them.”
Jacksonville had plenty of other chances, but Pittsburgh held on three trips inside the 25-yard line and forced the Jags to settle for field goals.
Jacksonville’s defensive effort was more surprising.
The Jaguars had been gouged in every game this season, giving up an average of 451 yards and 38 points in the first four weeks. Coach Gus Bradley made a couple of personnel changes, but insisted the unit’s better days were ahead.
Jacksonville held Le’Veon Bell to 82 yards rushing on 15 carries and kept Antonio Brown and Heath Miller in check, too. Brown finished with five receptions for 84 yards, and Miller added three catches for 46 yards a week after hauling in a career-high 10 passes.
“At the end of the day, our focus here is to get better and to correct the things we haven’t been doing well,” Jaguars cornerback Alan Ball. “Today, just playing for four quarters, that’s what I’m energized about. That’s one thing we should build on.”
Notes: Steelers backup SS Shamarko Thomas (hamstring) left the game and did not return. … Jaguars lost RBs Toby Gerhart, Storm Johnson, and Jordan Todman to ankle injuries at different points in the game. … Jaguars WR Ace Sanders caught two passes for 12 yards and returned three punts for 14 yards in his first game back from a four-game suspension.MORE NEWS: Hey Ray! It's All About Perspective With The Sun And Moon
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Updated October 5, 2014
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