As hard as it is to believe, the Jacksonville Jaguars are going to the AFC Championship game against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots, after stunning the Pittsburgh Steelers for the second time this season.
What a time to be alive!
Last week, I wrote about 5 things the Jaguars must do to beat the Steelers. Let’s see how the Jaguars fared in those keys to the game, and how close I was with my predictions.
1. Finding the run game again
It’s safe to say Jacksonville found its run game again. Jacksonville shredded the Pittsburgh defense for 164 rushing yards and four touchdowns. Despite aggravating his ankle, Leonard Fournette finally got out of his slump, rushing 25 times for 109 yards (4.4 yards per carry) and three touchdowns. T.J. Yeldon looked like a man on a mission, rushing five times for 20 yards and a score, as well as making several plays in the passing game. Blake Bortles added 35 yards on five totes. In two games against the Steelers this season, Jacksonville out-rushed Pittsburgh 395 yards to 153 yards. Fournette was responsible for 290 of those yards, as well as five(!) scores.
2. Containing Le’Veon Bell
The Jaguars held Bell in check. Just like the first matchup, Pittsburgh fell behind early and had to rely on the passing attack to stay in the game. Bell finished with just 67 yards on 16 carries, but he did score twice. He also caught an impressive nine balls, but only amassed 88 yards on 13 targets. Bell did make plays at times, including a circus catch in the end zone with Telvin Smith draped all over him, but Jacksonville limited his effect on the ball game. The Pittsburgh play-calling was questionable at times, for instance, deciding to pitch the ball to Bell on a fourth-down-and-one play, which the Jaguars stuffed for a four yard loss.
3. Blake Bortles stepping up in the pass game
It wasn’t the prettiest effort, but boy was I impressed with and proud of Bortles yesterday. In a critical moment of the game, Bortles found Keelan Cole for a 45-yard gain, which led to Fournette punching in a much-needed touchdown. He wasn’t afarid, he didn’t turn the ball over and his play was a big reason why the Jaguars came out on top. The offense went stagnant for a bit in the second half, but Bortles responded with put-away drives. Jacksonville’s QB1 went 14 of 26 for 214 yards, one touchdown, zero picks and zero fumbles. I know we’ve been hard on him, but Bortles is my quarterback and he silenced the doubters yesterday.
4. The wide receivers needing to show up this week
This one did not come to fruition, but thanks to a strong running game and Bortles’ ability to hit halfbacks, tight ends and fullbacks, it did not matter much. Bortles hit 10 different receivers, but no single player had more than three receptions or 57 yards receiving. Marqise Lee led all wide receivers with a mere three catches for 28 yards. Allen Hurns had just one catch for 12 yards, while Dede Westbrook also had only one reception. Cole’s lone reception was the aforementioned key 45-yard play in the fourth quarter. So all together, the wide receiver position combined for just six receptions, 93 yards and zero scores on 13 total targets. The group will need to step up against New England.
5. Stopping Antonio Brown
I’ve known about Antonio Brown well before he was a household name, as we went to the same university during my freshman year. Plain and simple, this man is unstoppable. Ben Roethlisberger and Brown combined for some amazing, entertaining, circus catches and kept the Steelers in the game as long as they could. A.J. Bouye had near perfect coverage on Brown in two different scenarios where Brown ended up with a touchdown. Brown is hands-down the best wide receiver in this league and even with the best cornerback tandem in the league covering him, he still got his. Great effort by Brown, and I’m not as worried about the secondary’s struggles simply because Brown just made amazing plays.
One other thing I left off of this list was winning the turnover battle — simply because that is generally what you must do to win any football game. But it could have very well been No. 1 on my list. The Jaguars protected the rock and didn’t give away the ball once — or allow a single sack.
This will obviously be a huge key against a team like New England where you cannot give Brady and that offense any extra chances.
Mike Kaye, let us know what’s up.
The #Jaguars are 10-0 when Blake Bortles doesn't turn the ball over.— Mike Kaye (@mike_e_kaye) January 14, 2018
Ladies and gentlemen, your Jaguars are in an AFC Championship game for the first time since 1999.
Let that soak in.