PITTSBURGH — It started just before midnight Saturday, when Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell tweeted that he couldn’t wait for a rematch with the Patriots.
It continued Sunday morning, when Steelers safety Mike Mitchell stood near the Jaguars’ locker room shouting, “Ya’ll gonna know my name!”
Well, late Sunday afternoon, Mitchell’s boasts, Bell’s tweets and everybody else who doubted the Jaguars were mentioned as motivation in the biggest upset of these NFL playoffs. The third-seeded Jaguars stunned the second-seeded Steelers, 45-42, at chilly Heinz Field in the AFC divisional round.
And now the Jaguars, a team overlooked by so many this season, will play in the AFC title game against the No. 1-seeded Patriots next Sunday.
“I was kind of surprised. I was wondering why they were so confident because we stomped their [butts] the last time,” cornerback Jalen Ramsey said. “We knew we were going to do the same this time and we were confident going into the game. I can’t tell you why they were so confident. That went out the door real quick.”
The Steelers seemed dismissive of what the Jaguars did to them in Week 5. They rocked Pittsburgh, 30-9, intercepting Ben Roethlisberger five times, including two pick-6s.
In the buildup to the rematch, many Steelers said things would be different, but right from the start, they weren’t. The Jaguars took a 21-0 lead and scored on four of their first five possessions before the Steelers got their offense going.
Roethlisberger completed 37 of 58 passes for 469 yards with five touchdowns and an interception against the NFL’s top pass defense. The Steelers tied their postseason record for points.
“It doesn’t matter when you give them 14 more points,” Roethlisberger said of the teams’ earlier meeting. “That’s on me. I’ll take full blame for those points and that loss because you can’t put your defense in that situation.”
Linebacker Myles Jack set up the Jaguars’ second TD with an interception at the Steelers’ 18. Linebacker Telvin Smith recovered Roethlisberger’s fumble on a sack and ran 50 yards for a 28-7 lead late in the first half.
The Steelers failed to contain rookie Leonard Fournette, who ran for 109 yards and three touchdowns. Blake Bortles made key plays down the stretch — yes, the same Blake Bortles who had more rushing yards (88) than passing yards (87) in the wild-card game against the Bills. He was much better this time, completing 14 of 26 for 214 yards with a TD. The Jaguars converted 8 of 14 third downs and scored on three of their final four possessions.
Bortles’ 14-yard pass to fullback Tommy Bohanon, a former Jet, with 4:19 left gave the Jags a 42-28 lead. Roethlisberger still had some late-game magic left, running downfield before making a nifty lateral to Bell for an 8-yard score with 2:18 to go. That cut the deficit to seven again.
Then Mike Tomlin made a questionable decision. Instead of kicking deep, the Steelers tried an onside kick that didn’t go 10 yards, and the Jags took over at the Steelers’ 36. Josh Lambo’s 45-yard field goal with 1:45 left made it 45-35.
“I was impressed with the poise,” Jacksonville coach Doug Marrone said. “You go up, they come back. You go up again, they come back. We’ve got to go score because we want to keep this cushion and keep this lead.”
All the Jaguars could talk about afterward were the slights, from not only the opponent but from others.
“It was unbelievable,” safety Barry Church said. “That’s why we kept feeling this whole time we were disrespected by pretty much everybody. NFL Network talking like [the first game] was a fluke, and you got guys on the opposite team pretty much dismissing what we done to them in the past.”
Before the game, Marrone told the team about Bell’s social media activity and Mitchell’s shouting to the rooftops.
Speaking of Mitchell, Jaguars cornerback A.J. Bouye said: “He doesn’t really do much over there, I guess, except for talk. So he said we’re going to know his name. I still don’t remember his name. I know it’s Mike something. He’ll be watching us next week.”