PITTSBURGH, Pa. – Many, if not most, were expecting a Patriots-Steelers rematch in next weekend’s AFC Championship. However, that dream match-up was Jag’d up at Heinz Field.
Jacksonville jumped out to a 21-0 lead on the road and, despite several answers from the Steelers, never relinquished the lead en route to a 45-42 victory in Sunday’s AFC Divisional Playoff and a berth in the AFC title game.
Pittsburgh loses to the Jaguars, AFC South division champions, for the second time at home this season. Jacksonville handed the Steelers their worst loss of the regular season, a 30-9 defeat October 8th.
For the game, much-maligned quarterback Blake Bortles did not throw for a touchdown but didn’t turn the ball over, either. Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette scored three touchdowns – including a pair in the first quarter as Jacksonville jumped out to a 14-0 lead.
Pittsburgh QB Ben Roethlisberger, who threw a career-high five interceptions vs. Jacksonville in that week five loss, hurled five touchdown passes Sunday and also threw for 469 yards – becoming the first player in the Super Bowl era (52 years) to have 400+ passing yards and five or more passing touchdowns in a playoff game. However, Big Ben, who flirted with retirement last offseason and could have played his final game at Heinz Field, threw one interception and lost one fumble.
The fumble, with 2:33 left in the half and the Steelers down 21-7, was returned by Jacksonville’s Telvin Smith for a 50 yard touchdown. The TD was the the Jags’ eighth defensive touchdown of the season, three more than any other team in the NFL and the most defensive touchdowns scored in a season (including playoffs) by one team since the 2012 Bears scored nine.
The Jaguars advance to their first conference title game since 1999. In a game to be broadcast live on News 3, Jacksonville will face the Patriots, the defending Super Bowl champions, in New England at 3:05 p.m.