Jaguars stun Steelers, book AFC final spot
The Jacksonville Jaguars, yes those Jacksonville Jaguars, are heading to the AFC championship game.
Rookie running back Leonard Fournette ran for 109 yards and three touchdowns, Blake Bortles added 214 yards passing and a vital fourth-quarter score as the relentless Jaguars stunned the Pittsburgh Steelers 45-42 yesterday.
The third-seeded Jaguars (12-6) will face top-seeded New England next week in Foxborough, Massachusetts after jumping on Pittsburgh early, then holding on late. Jacksonville raced to a 21-point lead, fended off a Steelers rally and responded every time Pittsburgh (13-4) challenged.
"The guys played with confidence all day long," Bortles said. "Obviously, what they have on their side of the ball, it's a good team. We know they got a good offence. We knew we were going to have to be efficient, hold on to the ball for a little bit, so we did it."
Ben Roethlisberger threw for 469 yards and set a franchise record with five touchdown passes, but was also intercepted once and had a fumble returned for a score. All-Pro Antonio Brown caught seven passes for 132 yards and two touchdowns in his return from a left calf injury. Le'Veon Bell had 155 yards of total offence and two scores.
But Pittsburgh's vaunted 'Killer Bs' could not keep pace with Jacksonville, one of four NFL franchises to never make the Super Bowl.
The Jaguars dominated the Steelers back in October, winning by three touchdowns in a performance so overwhelming Roethlisberger only half-jokingly wondered aloud whether he still had "it' after throwing a career-high five picks.
Roethlisberger and his teammates left little doubt they hoped for a rematch, one that came to fruition after Jacksonville outlasted Buffalo in an ugly wild-card victory; the Jaguars survived in spite of an 87-yard passing performance by Bortles.
Jacksonville cornerback A.J. Bouye cautioned Pittsburgh to be careful what it wished for, and the Jaguars hardly appeared intimidated by the 18-degree chill or trying to earn their first road playoff win in a decade.
Fournette's ever-churning legs set the tone early. He soared for a 1-yard touchdown run on fourth down on Jacksonville's first possession. He sprinted for an 18-yard score on the first play following a Roethlisberger pick, and bulled over from 3 yards in the fourth quarter after the Steelers cut the lead to a touchdown.
Bortles has found himself a touchstone during Jacksonville's resurgence following a decade of losing, even allowing last week that he'll never be able to silence all of his critics no matter what.
Might be time to test that theory.
"I'm sure there will still be tons of people that are going to disapprove and talk negative or hate or do whatever they want," Bortles said. "But we get to keep playing and we get an opportunity to play in Foxborough next week for another week. Just honoured to be able to do this especially with this group of guys.
"It's been an awesome year. Just want to keep it going."
First downs 22 28
Total Net Yards 378 545
Rushes-yards 3 5-164 18-83
Passing 214 462
Punt Returns 0-0 0-0
Kickoff Returns 3-47 4-104
Interceptions Returned 1-0 0-0
Comp-Att-Intercepted 14-26-0 37-58-1
Sacked-Yards Lost 0-0 2-7
Punts 4-32.8 2-39.5
Fumbles-Lost 1-0 1-1
Penalties-Yards 3-40 4-25
Time of Possession 28:50 31:10
Jaguars: Fournette 25-109, Bortles
5-35, Yeldon 5-20
Steelers: Bell 16-67, Roethlisberger
Jaguars: Bortles 14-26-0-214
Steelers: Roethlisberger 37-58-1-469
Jaguars: Yeldon 3-57, Lee 3-28, Fournette 2-10, Cole 1-45, Koyack
1-21, O'Shaughnessy 1-19, Bohanon 1-14, Hurns 1-12, Westbrook 1-8
Steelers: McDonald 10-112, Bell 9-88, A.Brown 7-132, Rogers 5-42, Smith-Schuster 3-5, Bryant 2-78, James 1-12.
MISSED FIELD GOALS