At the time the score looked like a misprint.
Jacksonville 30. Pittsburgh 9 .
On the road.
A result so stunningly one-sided Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger stood in the locker room on that gray October afternoon only half-jokingly wondered if he still had ”it.”
Throwing five interceptions Kaleb McGary Jersey , two of which the Jaguars returned for momentum-swinging, confidence-sapping touchdowns, will do that.
Yet Roethlisberger insists he’s not out for revenge in the rematch on Sunday when the Jaguars (11-6) visit Heinz Field in the divisional round with a trip to the AFC title game on the line.
There’s too much at stake for him to settle some sort of personal vendetta.
Or so he says.
”I’ll play anyone in the postseason,” Roethlisberger said.
Only Jacksonville isn’t ”anyone.” Not anymore. Not after the NFL’s top-ranked defense proved that breakout performance three months ago was a sign of things to come.
The Jaguars don’t play a particularly pretty brand of football. They also don’t particularly care.
Doubt them all you want. Mock their offense at your leisure.
Last they checked, there will be 24 teams watching the playoffs this weekend and Jacksonville isn’t one of them.
”We’ve just got to score one more point than they do,” Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles said.
”It doesn’t matter who scores it, where it comes from, how we do it, what it looks like, we score one more than them and I’m happy with how we did it.”
Bortles and the other 52 guys on the roster might be the only ones.
The Steelers (13-3) entered the season as one of the favorites to reach the Super Bowl.
Despite a fall filled with drama (much of it self-created) Pittsburgh was really only pushed around once. By the Jaguars.
Take Jacksonville lightly at your peril, something the Steelers found out on Oct. 8.
”Some people come in thinking a team may be easier by their record or tougher by their record, but we know that can’t be on our mind,” Pittsburgh running back Le’Veon Bell said.
”I think that kind of got us in the first game because the Jacksonville Jaguars, they’re normally not a good team but those guys got players this year. They’ve been making plays.”
If the Jaguars can do it for another 60 minutes, they’ll reach the NFL’s final four for just the third time in franchise history.
Some things to look for as the Jaguars try to pull off a second stunner against a team that believes its season is destined to end with a trip to Minneapolis for the Super Bowl.
AB’s BACK: Pittsburgh All-Pro wide receiver Antonio Brown is expected to play after missing the final 2+ games of the regular season with a left calf contusion. Brown practiced all week, though he was sent home on Friday because of an illness.
Brown caught 10 passes for 157 yards in the first meeting with Jacksonville and his return means all of Pittsburgh’s ”Killer Bs” will be ready to go.
”If he’s out there, I expect him to be AB,” Steelers cornerback Joe Haden said.
LEONARD’S LEAP: Jaguars rookie running back Leonard Fournette hammered the Steelers for a season-high 181 yards in October Kendall Sheffield Jersey , including a 2-yard touchdown leap and a 90-yard sprint to the end zone in the final two minutes that sealed it. Fournette’s production has dipped in recent weeks. He’s only averaged higher than 3.9 yards per carry once over the past eight weeks, though Bortles doesn’t think Fournette has smacked into the rookie wall.
”There has obviously been some hiccups and bumps in the road with different things,” Bortles said. ”It’s not on him, it’s on guys up front, it’s on me getting us in the right play, receivers blocking. It’s on everyone.”
CHILL OUT DUDE: Temperatures are expected to be in the teens at kickoff, a decided departure for the Jaguars.
While Jacksonville coach Doug Marrone downplayed the elements, Bell believes he has an advantage when the mercury drops.
A year ago against Miami in the wild-card round, he pounded the Dolphins for 167 yards and two touchdowns as the temperature hovered around 17 degrees.
”It definitely affects guys who are tackling,” Bell said. ”That’s why when it’s cold outside I take a lot of pride because I know guys don’t want to tackle.”
COACH SHAY: Injured Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier spent some time at the team’s facility this week, getting around in a wheelchair while recovering from spinal stabilization surgery last month following a hit against Cincinnati that left his lower body motionless.
Shazier’s presence has provided the Steelers with a boost, and while his football career is likely over, he remains intent on finding a way to contribute. Shazier, who would get to work as early as 6 a.m. to break down film when he was playing, is now serving as equal parts advance scout and motivational speaker.
”He loves football so much,” guard David DeCastro said. ”It’s amazing to see and just to have the attitude he has after all he’s been through man, it’s pretty impressive. I don’t know if I’d be able to do the same.”
What America saw last weekend from the Atlanta Falcons was similar to what the team showed for 2+ quarters of last year’s Super Bowl.
Can they keep it up as they head on the road again Saturday to Philadelphia?
The Falcons have that balanced offense – if Matt Ryan is efficient – to challenge any opponents. Where they made their mark against the Rams was on defense.
”We don’t have a (complicated) defense, but we are very detailed,” says defensive coordinator Marquand Manuel John Cominsky Jersey , a former NFL player who got the job last February. ”And the detail of expectations of understanding that they have to make our defense come to life, and they’re doing an awesome job at it.”
Philadelphia’s defense has been up and down recently, and it has dealt with a bunch of injuries. Depth has been a plus for Jim Schwartz’s unit.
The edge here belongs to Atlanta at quarterback – if Ryan is efficient – with backup Nick Foles running the offense for the Eagles. It wouldn’t be shocking to see Foles fly. Or struggle.
The Falcons are 2-point favorites over the top-seeded Eagles, a highly unusual occurrence. But one that, with Carson Wentz on the sideline, makes enough sense.
Tennessee (plus 13) at New England, Saturday
The Patriots are rested. They’re supposedly ticked off. They’re pretty healthy.
And they are miles better than the Titans.
Still, let’s give Tennessee tremendous credit for how it rallied in Kansas City. The Titans showed resolve and an ability to come up with big plays on offense that few expected.
”You’ve got every team fighting to play for the next week,” Patriots safety Devin McCourty says. ”Nobody’s going to go out there – and I don’t care if you’re down, if you’re up – like no one is going to quit. So, that’s something I think we always talk about, and obviously you could see it in that game against Kansas City.”
But this one is in New England. Yes, it’s gotten tiresome to travel (and travel, and travel) to Foxborough for playoff games. There’ll be another one up there next weekend.
BEST BET: PATRIOTS, 30-10
Jacksonville (plus 7+) at Pittsburgh, Sunday
One thing about the Steelers: They tend to play much closer games than they should. Based on talent alone, they probably are the NFL’s most skilled squad.
Here comes Jacksonville, following an offensive stinker in beating outmanned Buffalo. Logic says this should be a rout.
Forget logic and remember that Ben Roethlisberger was so victimized in a 30-9 Week 5 loss to the Jaguars that he had one of the worst games of his career.
There’s also the Antonio Brown factor: How healthy is the unanimous All-Pro receiver Qadree Ollison Jersey , who was injured in Week 15?
Jacksonville has a staunch defense with a terrific pass rush, too. Its secondary is among the league’s best.
OK, enough of that. We can’t make a case for Blake Bortles winning in Pittsburgh.
New Orleans (plus 4) at Minnesota, Sunday
What figures to be the best game of the divisional round, a redux of the Vikings’ 29-19 home victory in the season opener.
Both sides are balanced and have enough experience to handle the pressure. While the Saints have the Hall of Fame-level skills of Drew Brees at quarterback, Minnesota’s Case Keenum has been among the most pleasant surprises in the league.
Look for this one to come down to which defense asserts itself. Coach Mike Zimmer has built quite the unit in the Twin Cities.
”Well, you want to have pass rushers, you want to have guys that can cover,” he says. ”Without giving away all my secrets, I like a certain body type with guys. You can kind of look at most of them and tell what we’re trying to get. Athleticism, guys who can think quickly on their feet, safeties that have versatility, corners who can cover.”
Sounds like a winner.
Last week: Against spread (2-2). Straight up (1-3)
Season Totals: Against spread (119-122-10). Straight up: (163-95)
Best Bet: 9-9 against spread, 10-8 straight up.
Upset special: 10-8 against spread, 9-9 straight up