If you want to describe the buildup for the rematch between the Steelers and Jaguars use the fire emoji.
There are all sorts of drama going on as the two teams prepare for Sunday’s AFC Divisional game at Heinz Field.
It starts with the Steelers looking to redeem themselves from a 30-9 Week 5 loss to the Jags where quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw five interceptions, including two Pick-Sixes. The Jaguars’ Leonard Fournette carried the ball 28 times for 181 yards with two touchdowns in the victory. His 90-yard fourth quarter score sealed the game for the visiting Jags.
And despite the victory, the Jags feel disrespected.
Just before the postseason started, Roethlisberger was asked in a radio interview which of three teams, Tennessee, Kansas City and Jacksonville, he wanted to face.
“I’ll give you guys one guess who you think I want to play,” Roethlisberger told 93.7 FM in Pittsburgh.
After the Jags knocked off the Bills in the AFC wild card game last week, cornerback A.J. Bouye had a response for the Steelers QB: “Be careful what you wish for,” he said. “This is what he wanted. This is what he’s going to get.”
The Jags have taken several comments made by the Steelers as slights against them. Steelers safety Mike Mitchell talked about his team wanting to face the Patriots after a Dec. 4 victory against the Bengals.
“We will play [the Patriots] again,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell said his comments weren’t meant to disrespect the Jags.
“It’s one of those things, people in the media, it was a comment that was out of a 30-minute interview,” Mitchell said on FS1 this week. “And that’s what gets blown out. But I’m not mad at all about it. At the end of the day, it was the truth and that’s how we feel but the No. 1 thing we’re focused on, is a great opponent in the Jacksonville Jaguars.”
The Jags don’t seem convinced.
Asked what he thought of Mitchell’s comments, Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey said, “Who?”
Told it was Mitchell.
“Oh. I don’t even know.”
The first meeting the Jags played a strong defensive game, forcing Roethlisberger to throw 55 times as he was sacked twice. Of his five picks, two were on throws to wide receiver Antonio Brown.
Ramsey along with Bouye lead a fierce defensive unit, ranked second overall (286.1 yards allowed), No. 1 against the pass (169.9) and second in points allowed (16.8) during the regular season.
“Preparing for these guys is never easy they’re the best defense in the league for a reason,” Roethlisberger said this week. “These guys are extremely talented.”
But the Jags are not respected, especially after their inept offensive performance in a 10-3 AFC wild card win over the Bills last week. Blake Bortles had more rushing yards (88) than passing yards (87) in the victory.
Yet a win is a win and now the Jags must go on the road, again, and try to beat the Steelers, one of the favorites to reach the Super Bowl.
“I don’t get into all that physiological stuff,” Fournette said. “At the end of the day, it will be different. Ben is not trying to make the same mistakes he made and their defense is not trying to make the same mistakes they made. Like I said, it will be a challenge once again. It’s the playoffs, things will be different and we have to bring our A game.”
The Jags don’t have the tradition or stability of the Steelers, a franchise with six Super Bowl titles and eight Super Bowl appearances. Since 1969, the Steelers have had just three coaches, Chuck Noll, Bill Cowher and Mike Tomlin, each with a Super Bowl ring.
Jacksonville is making its first postseason appearance since 2007 and in the franchise’s history have no Super Bowl appearances. But the Jags have been to a pair of AFC title games under the man who is now in charge of the front office Tom Coughlin.
The Steelers have a dynamic trio in Le’Veon Bell, Brown and Roethlisberger and an expected date with the Patriots in the AFC title game.
Jacksonville hopes to spoil the party like they did in October.
“Any game that we are going to play anybody is going to be a difficult opponent,” Roethlisberger said on a Pittsburgh radio station. “For me, personally, I’d love to prove that five interceptions wasn’t me in that game.”