PITTSBURGH – Only one NFL team ever has defeated the Steelers here twice in the same season.
The Jacksonville Jaguars. In 2007.
Ten years later, the Jags attempt to do it again, on Sunday at Heinz Field in the second of two weekend AFC divisional playoff games (1:05 p.m. EST, CTV/CBS).
In Week 5 of this NFL season, on Oct. 8, Jacksonville embarrassed Pittsburgh at Heinz Field, 30-9. The Jaguars rode their best two attributes to victory: the league’s No. 1 rushing attack paced by rookie Leonard Fournette, plus what wound up as the NFL’s second best defence in terms of points and total yards allowed.
Jacksonville intercepted Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger five times on the day before Canadian Thanksgiving – four in the second half, two of which were returned for touchdowns. Big Ben had never had either a five-interception or double pick-six day in 14 years in the NFL.
It was in front of his stall afterward, in a quiet Steelers locker room, that the super-miffed Roethlisberger famously said, “Maybe I don’t have it anymore.”
In the 11 games since, however, the 35-year-old has done little other than to prove that, indeed, he still has ‘it.’ And plenty of it.
Whereas up to the moment he spoke those words of self-criticism he’d thrown more interceptions on the young season (seven) than TDs (six), and whereas he was averaging 254 pass yards per game with a sub-standard 75.8 passer rating on 61.5% completions, Roethlisberger in 10 games since has thrown 22 TDs vs. seven interceptions and averaged 298 pass yards per game, with an elite 103.9 passer rating on 65.8% completions.
The only game of those 10 the Steelers lost was to the New England Patriots last month, no thanks to that controversial replay reversal of what appeared to be a winning Pittsburgh TD pass in the waning seconds.
With a win on Sunday, the Steelers would return to the conference’s title game, perhaps against the same opponent as last year, the Patriots, and at the same venue, Gillette Stadium. Otherwise they’ll play host to Tennessee.
That Jacksonville is the opponent in Pittsburgh’s way seemed to suit the Steelers just fine this week. Before the playoffs, Roethlisberger had said he in particular would like the chance to play the Jags again this season.
Um, comment noted in the Jags locker room.
“Be careful what you wish for,” Jaguars cornerback A.J. Bouye told reporters Monday, a day after his AFC South champions edged the Buffalo Bills 10-3 in the conference wild-card round. “This is what he wanted, so this is what he is going to get.”
Bouye (in his fifth NFL season) and second-year Jalen Ramsey formed perhaps the NFL’s best cornerback combo in 2017. Both were named to the Pro Bowl. Ramsey had one of the five picks of Big Ben in October (free safety Tashaun Gipson had two, strong safety Barry Church one and linebacker Telvin Smith one). Only Baltimore, with 22, had more interceptions on the season than Jacksonville’s 21.
Believe it or not, the so-called “Sacksonville” front-seven might be even more imposing than the Jags secondary. It racked up 55 sacks this season, second only to Pittsburgh’s 56. Ends Calais Campbell, with 14.5, and Yannick Ngakoue, with 12, led the way. In Week 7 the Jags hit Indianapolis Colts QB Jacoby Brissett 20 times, a number not reached in any NFL game in 11 years.
In that Week 5 meeting at Heinz Field the Jags shut down Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell: 47 yards on 15 carries.
Fournette, on the other hand, had the best outing of his rookie season for Jacksonville, gaining 181 yards and two touchdowns on 28 carries. As a team, the Jags gained 231 rushing yards – the club’s most since 2010.
“We out-physicaled them that first game,” backup Jaguars defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. said. “We could tell that, and I think they could tell too … So I know that they’re going to be ready and they’re going come with their A-game, so we’ve just got to be ready too.
“But they’ve had a week off. They’re rested. They have great players … We’ve got to be ready.”
So much is rightfully being made about that first meeting in October. Jacksonville nose tackle Abry Jones said this game will be different, however it plays out.
“Neither one of us is the same team as Week 5. We’ve both got to go back to the drawing board,” Jones said.
The Jaguars would advance to the AFC championship for the first time in 18 years if they win Sunday.
Few are expecting them to do that. But the Jags want the sweep, in part to prove October’s win was no fluke.
Canuck Ankou doesn’t fret Pittsburgh’s cold
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – You know that old stereotype about football teams from the South hating to play up north in the winter?
For some players on those teams, it’s oh so true. For others, it’s no big deal. Cold, shmold.
“I’m from the South,” Jacksonville Jaguars nose tackle Abry Jones, a Georgia native, said on Monday. “When it hits 60 (16C), I’m cold.”
He wasn’t kidding.
The Jaguars play the Steelers in Pittsburgh on Sunday, and by anyone’s measure in mainland America it will be cold: an expected high of -7C.
But Jones insisted he and his teammates won’t be daunted by the weather, and won’t use it as an excuse.
“The only thing that is going to suck is when our offence gets those really long drives, and you’ve got to sit on the sideline,” Jones said, in all cockiness.
One of his defensive line mates, rookie backup tackle Eli Ankou, is from Canada. Ottawa, to be specific. And he’s not exactly dreading Sunday’s conditions some 1,335 km north of Jacksonville, but 900 km southwest of Canada’s capital.
“I used to walk to school in -35C,” Ankou said. “I’m not exactly fazed by this kind of cold. Obviously, nobody wants to play in the cold, but it’s just cold. You’ll get warm again.”
Although the Jacksonville locals, and most of his teammates, have been bundling up in thick coats and tuques in recent weeks, as temperatures in Jacksonville have dropped below 0C some nights before rising to 8-10C on the chilliest days, Ankou still pops out of his car in shorts and no thick coat. Because that isn’t real winter.
“The people here find me weird for that,” Ankou said. “I walk into the locker-room at this time of year, barefoot in flip-flops. They kind of look at me sideways.
“I say, ‘It’s not that cold!’ But for them, this is their winter and they’re like, ‘You’re crazy!’ ”
Bortles probably can’t throw just one second-half pass this time
One thing overlooked in Jacksonville’s impressive 30-9 win over the Steelers in Pittsburgh was the role of Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles.
As in, what role?
He threw only 14 passes on the day, and only once after halftime. The 2014 No. 3 overall draft pick completed eight for 95 yards, no touchdowns and one interception. Otherwise, he just kept handing the ball off, mostly to Leonard Fournette, who bludgeoned a proud Steelers defence for 181 yards.
So minimizing the role of one of the NFL’s most inconsistent passers will never be a bad thing.
But it’s highly unlikely his role will be anywhere near as insignificant in Sunday’s rematch at Heinz Field, with a berth in the AFC championship on the line.
Bortles had a great line this week when asked about all the never-subsiding criticism that hammers him weekly.
“It’ll probably never stop,” he said. “There’s people who think LeBron James sucks. So if that happens, I’m sure there will always be people who always think I suck.”
In Jacksonville’s AFC wild-card win over the visiting Buffalo Bills, Bortles was so off with his passes, he resolved to move the chains however possible. So he pulled down the ball and ran. And ran. And ran. Until ending the game with more rushing yards (89) than passing yards (88). He was only the third QB in NFL playoff history to win a game that way.
Steelers defenders this week vowed not to disregard Bortles’ passing ability. He’s streaky, and can hurt any defence when in the groove.
“He’s a guy that can definitely get hot,” Steelers cornerback Cam Sutton said. “When they get that run game going, it makes his job that much easier. Then (defences) are sitting on the run and teams are sneaking on over routes, pick routes.
“At various times throughout the year he’s looked really good. He’s had some good passing games. A lot of teams sleep on his mobility.”
Well, except Pittsburgh this time out.
“We’re not going to let him beat us with his feet,” safety Sean Davis said.
Source:: Toronto Sun – Movies