A halftime locker room speech from Ryan Shazier, the “Yinzer anthem” of “Renegade” by Styx and the return of Antonio Brown couldn’t propel the Pittsburgh Steelers past the Jacksonville Jaguars.
In their second contest this season — the two sides faced off at Heinz Field back on Oct. 8, with the Jaguars claiming victory — the Jaguars punched their ticket to the AFC Championship game with a 45-42 win at Heinz Field.
“Not a lot to say,” said head coach Mike Tomlin. “Really don’t plan a lot for these moments. But these moments do exist. I appreciate the efforts of the guys, not only today but over the course of the journey. We didn’t get it done. We didn’t play well enough today.”
Tomlin also took the blame on himself and the coaching staff, including offensive coordinator Todd Haley and defensive coordinator Keith Butler.
“We didn’t coach well enough today,” Tomlin said. “The effort was there, the resolve was there. But not enough execution to win versus very good people in January football. That is the only way to cut it.”
The Jaguars’ offense exploded during the entire first quarter and through most of the second.
Pittsburgh would be down 21 points before even getting their first touchdown, in the second quarter, on the board.
Meanwhile, the Jaguars first three touchdowns came from running the ball. Leonard Fournette scored both touchdowns in the first quarter, on one and 18-yard runs.
In the second quarter, T.J. Yeldon added a 4-yard touchdown.
The Steelers began to build momentum with three minutes left in the second quarter. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger welcomed back Antonio Brown with a 23-yard touchdown pass.
Brown had recovered from a calf injury, which sidelined him against the Cleveland Browns in Week 17. The injury was picked up against the Houston Texans in Week 16.
However, the momentum was halted after Telvin Smith picked up a fumble by Roethlisberger and returned it 50 yards for a touchdown.
Roethlisberger’s fumble was the result of Yannick Ngakoue’s forced fumble.
The Steelers were able to close out the first half with another passing touchdown. This time, Roethlisberger found Martavis Bryant for a 36-yard touchdown pass.
Another passing touchdown was the lone scoring play in the third quarter, with Le’Veon Bell catching a 19-yard pass from Roethlisberger.
The fourth quarter was crunch time for the Steelers, who were down by only a touchdown, 28-21. After another rushing touchdown from Fournette, Roethlisberger found Brown again, this time for a 43-yard touchdown pass.
“I thought we had the right guys,” Brown said after the loss.”As a player, you live for these moments. Now we start all over.”
Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles didn’t waste any time extending his side’s lead, though. Bortles found fullback Tommy Bohanon wide open in the end zone for a 14-yard touchdown.
Bell responded on his own, with an 8-yard run into the end zone.
After a failed onside kick attempt, the Jaguars marched down the field for kicker Josh Lambo to attempt, and make, a 45-yard field goal.
“It’s crazy that we couldn’t get off the field,” defensive end Cameron Heyward said. “They played better than us — simple as that.”
With less than two minutes to go, the Steelers played no-huddle football, and eventually, Roethlisberger found JuJu Smith-Schuster in the end zone for a 4-yard touchdown. However, the clock hit zero as soon as Jacksonville recovered Chris Boswell’s kick off.
With the victory, the Jaguars will travel up to Foxborough, Mass., to face the New England Patriots next Sunday in the AFC Championship game.
Roethlisberger finished the game with 37/58 completed passes for 469 yards. The last time the two sides met, Roethlisberger threw five interceptions, but this time only threw one to linebacker Myles Jack.
Roethlisberger had five total touchdowns to four different players.
“Nobody quit and that speaks volumes about this team,” Roethlisberger said.
Opposite of Roethlisberger, Bortles threw 14/26 completed passes for 214 yards. Bortles only threw one touchdown pass, while Fournette picked up three touchdowns, and 109 yards, on the ground.
Fournette had 25 carries against the Steelers defense.
Second-year safety Sean Davis led the Steelers in tackles, completing nine and assisting three. No Steeler defender recorded a single sack or forced fumble.
Meanwhile, Marcell Dareus and Ngakoue each found Roethlisberger for a sack each.
After the game, Roethlisberger silenced rumors of retirement by telling reporters that he would be back in 2018 and is excited that his offensive lineman would be back too.
“I don’t know who’s coming back, but I know the guys up front are and that makes it good for me,” Roethlisberger said. “So I look forward to next year with these guys.”
As for what the loss means for the team, Roethlisberger made a simple explanation.
“It wasn’t our day,” Roethlisberger said. “It wasn’t our year.”
Local Jaguar gets to first AFC Championship
There was a local flavor to the Jacksonville Jaguars roster.
Linebacker Paul Posluszny is a native of Hopewell Township in the city of Aliquippa, about 30 minutes north of Pittsburgh. Posluszny attended Our Lady of Fatima for grade and middle school.
His high school career was spent at Hopewell Senior High School.
Posluszny previously featured for the Buffalo Bills from 2007-10. The Bills drafted him with the No. 34 pick in the second round of the 2007 NFL Draft.
Posluszny attended college at Penn State University under Joe Paterno.
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