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Defense bails out offense in Steelers win over Jags

It seemed like old times; like the year was 1995. The Steelers were struggling on offense against an inferior opponent, only to have the defense save the day. That's ok with JP, as long as the result is a W for Black and Gold Nation.

David Manning-USA TODAY Sports

You got the feeling on Sunday as the Pittsburgh Steelers battled the Jacksonville Jaguars that this game was a throwback to previous meetings between the two franchises.

In their short history in the NFL, the Jags and Steelers have had some great battles, with each team having taken the other's best shot and surviving.

Sunday's game featured one club sitting at 2-2 and on shaky ground, still trying to find themselves and a path toward respectability. The other club is the worst in the NFL, looking to rebuild toward the future.

For nearly 50 minutes, you really weren't sure which team was which, as they played a tight game separated by only a single point over three quarters of play.

And all it took to decide this game and define each club was the play of a guy who 14 days ago was thrust into a role due to injury.

Corner Brice McCain stepped in front of a Blake Bortles pass early in the fourth quarter and returned it for a touchdown to give the Steelers some breathing room and a 17-9 lead. The play was preceded by a Ben Roethlisberger fumble deep in Jaguars' territory just two snaps prior.  The Steelers defense did the rest and held on for an eight-point win while leaving one question to ponder.

Who is Brice McCain? 

Many fans were asking that question shortly after his pick-six on Sunday. McCain began his career with the Houston Texans, drafted in the sixth round out of Utah. But his five-year stint in the Lone Star State came to a close in March when he was released.

That allowed the Steelers to sign the young, still-in-his-prime corner to a league-veteran-minimum deal. His play in camp was just good enough to keep him on the 53-man roster.

With the injury to Ike Taylor in Week 3, McCain was thrust into serious playing time. He found himself on the field vs. Tampa Bay and was in coverage for the late TD that helped beat the Steelers.

One week later, he grabbed fate and sealed the Steelers third win while drawing praise from his head coach.

"It just reinforces the concept of the things that you do in practice have an opportunity to turn up in a game," said head coach Mike Tomlin afterwards.  "He had a real good week of practice and it's just good football justice to see him have an opportunity like that and cash in on that."

McCain told reporters about the big play afterwards and gave a description of what he didn't see.

"On that play, I didn't see him," said McCain of Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles. "I seen him check and I've been playing against the Jaguars a long time so the signal was a pick play so I went over top and he threw it right to me."

McCain's timing couldn't have been better for him and the Steelers. Now at 3-2 and facing a critical division game at Cleveland, the Steelers can begin to separate themselves from the middle of the pack of pretenders for an AFC playoff ticket.

Cleveland won't be an easy outing, but knowing you can win close games on the road in the NFL helps get you where you want to be in January, and that's playing post-season football.

John Phillips is a radio personality for 93.7 The Fan in Pittsburgh and a columnist for Behind The Steel Curtain. Check him out on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.