By WILL GRAVES AP Sports Writer
PITTSBURGH (AP) — The Jacksonville Jaguars heard the chatter, read the tweets and Instagram posts. And they got a little confused. Why were the Pittsburgh Steelers talking about the New England Patriots? Didn’t they have to face the Jaguars first before reaching a rematch with the Super Bowl champions?
“I don’t know if they misread the schedule or didn’t play us this week, but they didn’t acknowledge us at all,” Jacksonville linebacker Myles Jack said. “And we didn’t take that too kindly.”Not at all. That shouldn’t be a problem going forward.The Jaguars, yes the Jaguars, have the NFL’s full attention now. A trip to Foxborough on the horizon, too.
Dominant at the start and resilient at the finish, Jacksonville stunned the Steelers 45-42 on Sunday to advance to the AFC title game for the third time in franchise history and maybe, finally, earn a bit of respect. Leonard Fournette ran for 109 yards and three scores . Embattled quarterback Blake Bortles added 214 yards passing and a pivotal fourth-quarter touchdown as the third-seeded Jaguars (12-6) beat the second-seeded Steelers (13-4) at Heinz Field for the second time in three months.
The victory in October served notice Jacksonville was ready to put a decade of losing firmly behind. This one sent an even bigger message: overlook the Jaguars at your own peril, something Pittsburgh appeared to do in the run-up. Coach Mike Tomlin hinted at facing the Patriots twice back in December. Running back Le’Veon Bell posted on Twitter about the pair of “round 2s” the Steelers will face in coming weeks.
Turns out, one rematch is all the Steelers will get.
“We knew we had this team’s number,” Jacksonville safety Barry Church said. “All we did was feed on the fuel that everybody was providing, the media, everybody was talking about how they’re going to run through us, it’s not going to be like last (time). Blake Bortles this. Blake Bortles that. all he did was dominate their defense.”
A week removed from an ugly performance in a wild-card round win over Buffalo in which he passed for 87 yards and struggled with the easiest of throws, Bortles went 14 of 26 for a touchdown without an interception. He ran for 35 more and wasn’t sacked by a defense that led the NFL and set a franchise record with 55 during the season. Jacksonville’s 45 points tied the most ever allowed by the Steelers in the playoffs.Not bad for an offense that at times simply appeared along for the ride as the NFL’s top defense carried the load.
“Blake Bortles has always been criticized,” Fournette said. “It is different now. He has guys that have his back, especially me.”
Certainly looked it as Fournette scored two first-quarter touchdowns. The Jaguars built a 21-point lead and responded whenever the Steelers rallied to get within one score.