The Jacksonville Jaguars have earned a spot in the AFC championship game for the first time since the 1999 season, surprising the Pittsburgh Steelers on the road, 45-42.
The Jaguars had an impressive offensive performance against one of the better defenses in the NFL this season, one week after struggling to move the ball in the wild-card round against the Buffalo Bills.
The Jaguars raced out to a 21-0 lead, silencing the crowd at Heinz Field. Jacksonville got the ball to start the game and put together a tidy eight-play scoring drive for the early lead. And as it has done all season, the Jacksonville defense did its share, forcing a three-and-out on the Steelers’ first possession and getting an interception on the second, a tremendous heads-up play by Myles Jack well inside Pittsburgh territory, giving his teammates a short field to work with.
One play later, the Jaguars had their second touchdown.
Pittsburgh certainly made things interesting, and for a while it looked like it turned the tide and we were headed for the kind of eye-rolling, of-course-Jacksonville-would-do-that type of meltdown we’ve expected from the Jaguars over the last several years.
The Steelers scored just before halftime to cut the deficit in half, 28-14; they got the ball to start the third quarter and scored again, 28-21, and had a blocked punt early in the fourth. But Pittsburgh didn’t take advantage of the short field.
Pittsburgh had a couple of questionable fourth-down calls, one in each half; on the first, needing less than a foot, the call was a toss to Le’Veon Bell, and on the second, again fourth-and-1, the play was a pass for JuJu Smith-Schuster.
Calling a quarterback sneak with Ben Roethlisberger, who is 6-foot-5 and roughly 250 pounds, would have made sense in either situation – or both.
After the loss, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, who has seemingly been under fire all season, said he was “comfortable” with the plays that were made in those situations.
A week after rushing for more yards (78) than he passed for (77), Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles was steady, though not spectacular: he completed 14 of 26 attempts for 214 yards, with one touchdown.
Rookie Leonard Fournette had a hat trick of touchdowns, returning to the game after appearing to roll his ankle late in the second quarter. Fournette was noticeably limping as he was taken back to the team’s locker room, but was back on the field for the second half. Fournette had 109 yards on 25 carries.
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