One year after finishing the season 3-13, the Jacksonville Jaguars are headed to the AFC Championship game.
The Jaguars' recipe for success this season has been pretty simple: Play great defense, feed Leonard Fournette and then cross their fingers and hope that Blake Bortles comes through with at least one big play. Well, they got all of that and more during their stunning 45-42 win in Pittsburgh on Sunday.
The 87 total points was the fourth most in playoff history.
Although the Jags' defense carried the team through most of the season, it was Bortles who carried the team to the finish line in Pittsburgh with one of the most clutch fourth quarters that you'll ever see from a quarterback in an NFL playoff game.
Maybe we should start calling him Dr. Bortles because he dissected the Steelers defense.
Bortles' fourth-quarter performance didn't even seem possible after he went just 9 of 20 for 94 yards through the game's first three quarters. However, he was able to shake that off and put together a fourth-quarter performance that was Tom Brady-esque, which was almost fitting since that's who the Jaguars will be facing next week in New England.
Over the final 15 minutes of the game, Bortles went 5 of 6 for 120 yards and a touchdown, and almost every single one of those completions came in a situation where the Jaguars absolutely needed it. For instance, with the Jaguars clinging to a 28-21 lead early in the fourth quarter, Bortles converted a third-and-8 with an 11-yard completion to Marqise Lee. If Bortles didn't complete the pass to Lee, the Jaguars would have had to punt, and the Steelers would've had a chance to tie the game.
Not only did Bortles convert the third down, though, he went for the jugular one play later with a 45-yard bomb to Keelan Cole that took the Jaguars down to the Steelers' 3-yard line.
From there, Fournette punched the ball into the end zone for a touchdown that gave the Jags a 35-21 lead.
After the Steelers immediately responded with a touchdown of their own, Bortles went back to action. On the Jaguars' next offensive series, Bortles marched his team straight down the field on a possession where he went 3 for 3 for 64 yards. The Jags' quarterback capped the drive by throwing a 14-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Tommy Bohanon.
The touchdown pass wasn't even his biggest throw of the drive, though. That came earlier, when he converted two different third downs with key throws to T.J. Yeldon (to convert a third-and-5) and Dede Westbrook (to convert a third-and-4).
Pulling a Bortles used to be a bad thing, but we might have to completely rethink that after the way Bortles played in the fourth quarter. If Bortles can channel his inner-Brady next week in New England, the Jaguars might actually have a chance to beat a team led by Tom Brady.
With the win, the Jaguars are now headed to the AFC title game for the third time in franchise history (0-2) and the first time since the 1999 season. The Jags are also just the second team since 1970 to get to a conference title game one season after winning three or fewer games.
Let's take a look at the other big storylines from the game.
The Jaguars made sure to feed Leonard Fournette
When the Jaguars play, there's not really any secret about what they're going to try and do on offense. They love to give the ball to Fournette as often as possible, and that's exactly what they did in Pittsburgh.
Although Fournette missed the final seven minutes of the first half due to an ankle injury, the Jaguars still managed to get him 25 carries in the game, which he took full advantage of. The decision to spend the fourth-overall pick in the 2017 draft on him definitely paid off, as Fournette rushed for 109 yards and three touchdowns. Fournette was so good against the Steelers this season that he actually scored more rushing touchdowns at Heinz Field than Le'Veon Bell did.
Fournette's longest run against the Steelers came on an 18-yard touchdown in the second quarter that gave Jacksonville a 14-0 lead.
With three scores, Fournette became just the second rookie in NFL history to score three rushing touchdowns in a playoff game.
Clock strikes midnight on Big Ben
After throwing five interceptions against the Jaguars in October, Ben Roethlisberger wanted another crack at them in the playoffs. The good news for Roethlisberger is that he got his wish and the bad news is that it completely backfired. Although Roethlisberger put up huge numbers against the Jaguars this time around -- he threw for 469 yards and five touchdowns -- he made two huge mistakes in the first half that cost the Steelers big time.
The biggest mistake came late in the second quarter when the Steelers were driving in hopes of cutting into a 21-7 Jaguars lead just before halftime. Instead of cutting into the lead though, the Steelers actually did the opposite after Roethlisberger lost a fumble and then watched helplessly as Jacksonville's Telvin Smith returned it 50 yards for a touchdown.
The touchdown gave the Jaguars a 28-7 lead and put the Steelers in an almost impossible hole. The lost fumble was Roethlisberger's second turnover of the game. In the first quarter, Big Ben was intercepted at the Steelers' 18-yard line by Myles Jack. One play after the pick, Fournette scored a touchdown, which gave the Jaguars a total of 14 points off of turnovers in the first half.
With 545 yards of total offense in the game, the Steelers became the first team in NFL playoff history to put up more than 525 yards and still lose. Before Sunday, teams had been 14-0 in that situation. Not even a huge game from Antonio Brown (132 yards, two touchdowns) was enough to save Pittsburgh.
If you want to get a Steelers fan mad, just ask them how they felt about the team's fourth-down playcalling in this game.
Todd Haley on fourth down is such a disaster you can’t help but laugh— Justin (@dmxfury) January 14, 2018
As costly as Roethlisbeger's turnovers were, the Steelers' biggest gaffes on Sunday might have been the fourth-down playcalling from offensive coordinator Todd Haley. On two separate occasions, the Steelers had a fourth-and-1 inside of Jacksonville's 40-yard line and on both occasions they failed to convert. With a 250-pound quarterback who's almost always perfect on fourth down, you'd think that the Steelers would have done the smart thing and simply called a QB sneak when they were faced with a fourth-and-1, but for some reason, that's not what they did.
Instead of going with a sneak, the Steelers went with a toss play that got stuffed for a four-yard loss. On the second fourth-and-1, Roethlisberger threw incomplete on a play-action pass. Again, it's almost like they out-thought themselves on both plays.
Ben Roethlisberger on 4th-and-1 rush attempts in his career, including playoffs:— NFL Research (@NFLResearch) January 14, 2018
18 first downs
Highest success rate (94.7 percent) of any player with over 10 attempts since 2004 (including playoffs)
Steelers on 4th-and-1 today:
0-for-2 (Bell run, Ben pass)
Although the Steelers did have two huge fourth-down conversions that both went for touchdowns, the ones they didn't convert are going to be the ones that Steelers fans remember.
Jaguars own Pittsburgh
The Jaguars' win over the Steelers wasn't just shocking because they were a 7.5-point underdog, it was shocking because it was their second win in Pittsburgh this season. Before this year, only one team in NFL history had ever won two games in Pittsburgh in a single season.
That team? The 2007 Jaguars, who went 2-0 at Heinz Field.
This year, the Jaguars did it again, meaning they are still the only team to ever win two games in one season in Pittsburgh. The Jaguars have basically been a thorn in Roethlisberger's side since his rookie year in 2004.
Unfortunately for the Steelers, they're scheduled to play the Jaguars in 2018.
Odds and ends
Besides the players on the field, the happiest person to see the Jaguars win on Sunday was probably this guy, who has a Super Bowl LII tattoo. Getting a tattoo that says Super Bowl champ is almost never a good idea, but this guy's investment might actually pay off.
One other guy who's probably pretty excited about the Jaguars' win is the person in Las Vegas who bet on them to win the Super Bowl. Back in February 2017, someone bet $990 that Jacksonville would win Super Bowl LII and if that happens, they're going to win a cool $99,000 thanks to the fact that they were given 100-to-1 odds on the bet.
Five days after Super Bowl LI, someone actually bet $990 on the Jaguars to win Super Bowl LII AND THEY GOT 100-to-1 odds. Could potentially win $99,000. Some of the biggest Super Bowl LII bets (via @WilliamHill) #Patriots #Jaguars pic.twitter.com/iPDbR5Grvm— John Breech (@johnbreech) January 14, 2018
With two bettors also putting big money on the Patriots, someone is going to be pretty excited after next week's AFC title game.
The Jaguars' upset win in Pittsburgh has earned them a trip to New England, where they'll be taking on the Patriots in Sunday's AFC title game, which will kickoff at 3:05 p.m. ET on CBS. Although this game might seem like a mismatch, the Jaguars do have a secret weapon here: Tom Coughlin.
If there's one person who has owned the Patriots in the postseason, it's Coughlin, who is currently the Jaguars' executive vice president of football operations. During his stint with the Giants, Coughlin famously beat the Patriots two times in the Super Bowl, including a 17-14 win in Super Bowl XLII that foiled New England's undefeated season.
The key to beating the Patriots is a defense that can put constant pressure on Tom Brady and the Jaguars have a defense that can absolutely do that.
To catch up on all the highlights from the game, feel free to scroll through our live blog below.