Posted on January 14, 2018, by Travis Pulver
Not much was expected of the Jacksonville Jaguars in the postseason. With how they struggled down the stretch and against Buffalo, there was no reason to think they could take down the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Divisional Round. The Steelers certainly were not too worried about the Jaguars even though they had lost to them earlier this season.
As it turns out, the Steelers had plenty to worry about from the Jaguars—especially their offense.
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Leonard Fournette capped off the opening drive of the game with a one-yard plunge on fourth and goal. An interception off Ben Roethlisberger set up his second touchdown, an 18-yard scamper that made the score 14-0.
Pittsburgh finally got the ball moving on the ensuing drive, but an ill-advised conversion attempt on fourth and one from the Jacksonville 21-yard line resulted in a turnover on downs. Eleven plays later, T.J. Yeldon ran the ball in from four yards to make the score 21-0
Momentum was clearly favoring Jacksonville, but then the worst thing that could happen did—Leonard Fournette limped off the field with an apparent leg injury. The defense stepped up and forced a fumble which Telvin Smith returned 50-yards for a touchdown.
But before the end of the half, Ben Roethlisberger connected with Martavis Bryant on fourth and 11 for a 36-yard touchdown. With the deficit down to 14-points and the ball to start the second half, things were looking up for the Steelers.
The Steelers got within seven after Le’Veon Bell scored from 19-yards out on the opening drive of the second half. But it wasn’t until the fourth quarter that things got crazy.
A 45-yard reception by Keelan Cole set up Leonard Fournette’s third touchdown run of the day giving the Jaguars a 35-21 advantage with 10:34 to play.
Down by 14 with 9:05 to play, the Steelers decided to go for it on fourth and five from the Jacksonville 43-yard line—and Ben Roethlisberger connected with Antonio Brown to make the score 35-28.
Blake Bortles responded by taking the Jaguars on an eight play, 75-yard touchdown drive capped off by a 14-yard pass to Tommy Bohanon. Jacksonville was up by 14, 42-28, with 4:19 to play.
Ben Roethlisberger capped off Pittsburgh’s next drive with one of the more heads-up plays of the season. After scrambling and passing the line of scrimmage, he passed the ball to Le’Veon Bell who finished the play in the end zone. Illegal, right? No! Since he passed the ball behind him, it was considered a lateral—which is legal.
But with 2:18 to play and down by seven, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin had a tough call to make. Should he kick it deep and hope the defense can hold or go for the onside kick?
“We wanted to get the ball back,” Tomlin said (NFL). “We hadn’t stopped them convincingly enough, in my opinion. It was my decision.”
The onside attempt hit one of the Steelers before going the required ten-yards and was easily recovered by the Jaguars. After three Fournette-runs, Josh Lambo kicked a 45-yard field to make the score 45-35. Pittsburgh scored another touchdown in garbage time to make the final 45-42.
Ben Roethlisberger couldn’t lead the team back to the AFC Championship despite throwing for 469 yards and five touchdowns. But he still gave fans a reason to smile after the game. No retirement talk this year. He’s coming back (ESPN):
“I definitely have a desire to play football. I love this game. I love these guys. It’s tough, it stings, you hate to lose at home. I feel bad because I feel like I let the fans down, let my teammates down. I don’t know about contracts and whose coming back but I know the guys up front are, and that makes it good for me, so I look forward to next year with those guys.”
Jacksonville didn’t get a lot out of Blake Bortles. But they did get exactly what they needed—a relatively mistake-free game (14-26 for 214 yards and a touchdown). They may need him to do more than not mess up to beat the Patriots next week.