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Steelers season ends in 45-42 shocker to Jacksonville

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Jacksonville, thanks to a high-powered offensive attack, raced out to a 21-0 advantage in the first half, never losing the lead in its 45-42 win over the Steelers at Heinz Field Sunday in the AFC Divisional playoff matchup.

A win for the Steelers seemed inevitable Sunday.

The media saw it that way.  The fans saw it that way.  The team even saw it that way.

Jacksonville did not.  They were the only ones on point with their vision.

Taking advantage of Pittsburgh’s defensive struggles, the Jaguars rattled off 28 first half points, while rushing for 164 yards in a game that was never as close as the three-point final difference indicated.

“What else can you look at?  We just didn’t execute today,” explained a disgruntled Cam Heyward.

Pittsburgh (13-4), who lost 30-9 to Jacksonville in Week 5, bowed out of the playoffs without a win for the first time since a 2014 loss to Baltimore in the Wild Card.

Jacksonville (12-5) caged momentum from jump, when the bruising Leonard Fournette capped an eight play, 53-yard game opening drive in 4:20 with a one-yard dive over the goal line to give the visitors a lead they would never lose.

Fournette, who was hobbled by an ankle injury in the first half, was backed up by T.J. Yeldon, who rattled off 20 yards on five carries—adding 57 receiving yards—while quarterback Blake Bortles racked up 35 with his legs.

“All of our running backs, we can do it all,” said Fournette, who finished with 109 yards on 25 carries with three touchdowns, totaling 290 yards in two games against the Steelers this year.   “We can catch, run, block. If any one of us goes down, we won’t miss a step.  Coach teaches us the same thing.  We pay attention. It is different now.  Everything counts.”

Following a questionable fourth and one toss play to Le’Veon Bell that was stuffed, forcing a turnover on downs, the Steelers finally answered Jacksonville on a Ben Roethlisberger 23-yard pass to Antonio Brown with just over eight minutes left in the first half, bringing the score to a 21-7 deficit. 

The Steelers failed to convert on two critical fourth and one plays, including an incomplete attempt on a Ben to JuJu Smith-Schuster slant route at the Jacksonville 39 to start the fourth quarter.

“It’s been a while since we’ve run a quarterback sneak,” said Roethlisberger when asked about the play-calling on the fourth down plays.  “I’m for it.  I don’t know – that’s kind of over my head when it comes to why we don’t do it.”

“I felt comfortable with that,” said Mike Tomlin of the plays.  “They packed the A’s and the B’s. Obviously wasn’t comfortable with the result. We didn’t execute well enough and they did, and I guess you got to acknowledge that.”

“They won the moments whether it was fourth down plays or conversion by them in some sort of form or fashion on offense,” continued coach.  “They made the significant plays in the moments and that is what you have to do in order to advance.   We lost some fourth down plays.  We lost some possession downs on the other side.  Those significant moments kind of define you, particularly this time of year, and they made those plays.”

The significant moment factor reached its zenith when with just 2:20 left in the half, Yannick Ngakoue strip-sacked Roethlisberger at midfield, which was recovered by Telvin Smith and returned for a 50-yard touchdown to make it a 28-7 advantage.  The Steelers would answer with a Ben to Martavis Bryant 25-yard end zone hookup with 25 seconds left until the break.

Roethlisberger finished 37 of 58 for a whopping 469 yards and five touchdowns, answering his five- interception performance in Week five.  Ben closed the scoring for the Steelers with a 19-yard pass to Bell, a 43-yard connection to Brown and a four-yard hookup with Smith-Schuster with just one second left in the game.  Two of the three scoring plays were answered by Jacksonville’s offense.

Brown served as Roethlisberger’s, gathering 132 yards on 11 catches, while Vance Mcdonald tallied up 112 yards and Bell with 88 receiving yards out of the backfield.

Bell led the rushing attack for the Steelers with 67-yard on 16 carries with a receiving touchdown and a rushing score— an eight-yard dash to cap a 12 play, 75-yard drive bringing the Steelers to within seven points with 2:18 left in the game.

“We just didn’t get it today,” explained Bell.  “We had our opportunities and we missed on them.  We had to put a complete game out there and we didn’t.  Give credit to them and their gameplan.  They did what they had to do to win.”

Quarterback Blake Bortles, who tossed for just 95 yards in the regular season meeting clamped the official dagger upon the Steelers, when the signal-caller found a wide-open Tommy Bohanon to cap an eight play, 75-yard drive with 4:19 left in the game, putting Jacksonville ahead by two scores.

“We were confident in what we did last time against them,” said Bortles, who finished the game with 214 yards on 14 of 26 passing.  “We took some of that plan and mixed it with some other stuff.  We felt really good with it coming in.”

The Steelers, who set the franchise single-season record with 55 sacks, could not to get Bortles to the ground on Sunday, marking the first time all season the defensive unit failed to register a single sack.

“We just played a bad game,” said Heyward.  “We played well during the regular season, and we didn’t win one game.  They did enough.  It doesn’t matter how many points, as a defense, we never want to surrender that.  You think our offense did enough, but as a defense, we did not get off the field enough.”

Trash talk

After a Le’Veon Bell tweet on Saturday night that read, “I love round 2’s...we’ll have two round 2’s in back to back week;” as well as Mike Mitchell allegedly taunting the Jaguars near their locker room pregame, the tables flipped in Jacksonville’s locker room post game.

"That’s what happens when you talk tough,” said safety Barry Church.  “You got players on their team talking about the Patriots like they were going to obliterate us.  It [doesn’t] make sense.  You don’t come at us like that with that disrespect and they did.  And they just fed us fuel that we needed to go out there and dominate, and yeah, they got a couple yards, [but] we were in prevent. Other than that, they didn’t have nothing for us. I’m glad we sent them home."

Defensive end Calais Campbell talked about Bell’s tweet.

“He said he wants to do round 2.  A revenge game for this week and then next week.  Two round twos’,” Campbell saiod.  “Honestly, my heart told me, he’s going to have to earn it because we won’t just give it to him.  You have to come out here and take it from us.  We came out here, got an early lead, we knew if we had an early lead, we could do some good things.  This team has a lot of resolve, a lot of resilience, and a lot of passion and we found a way to get the [win.]

“We just don’t tolerate disrespect,” said linebacker Myles Jack.  “We don’t tolerate it.”

After the spread

Pittsburgh came in as a heavy 7-point favorite, losing against the spread for the 10th time this season.  The Jaguars covered the moneyline at +260. 

The total, which closed at 41-points, went over with the halftime score at 28-14.  The final tally was 87-points.

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