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Steelers

Jaguars stun Steelers in AFC divisional game at Heinz Field

Joe Rutter
| Sunday, Jan. 14, 2018, 4:33 p.m.

This wasn't how it was supposed to end for the Steelers.

Not at home. Not in the divisional playoff round. Not before they had a rematch against the New England Patriots.

That sequel — the "second one" as coach Mike Tomlin infamously called it in November — won't happen. Not this season.

Instead, it will be the upstart Jacksonville Jaguars playing in the AFC championship game next weekend after the seven-point underdogs jumped to a pair of 21-point leads in the first half and held on for a 45-42 victory at Heinz Field that sent the Steelers prematurely into their offseason.

Despite going 13-3 in the regular season and securing the No. 2 seed in the AFC, the Steelers fell short of matching last season's trip to the AFC championship game and another chance to play the Patriots in Foxborough, Mass.

"It's disheartening," said wide receiver Antonio Brown, who played for the first time since Dec. 17 and caught two touchdown passes. "We started this journey early in the year, and you live for these type of moments and being in these type of positions. To fall short, it's disheartening."

Ben Roethlisberger threw five touchdown passes but couldn't bring the Steelers all the way back in the second half. In the first half, he threw an interception that led to a touchdown one play later, and he lost a fumble that was returned 50 yards for a score to put the Steelers in a 28-7 hole.

"It stings," Roethlisberger said. "You hate to lose it. You hate to lose at home. I feel bad because I feel like I let the fans down, my teammates down. You know, the fans, we gave them so much to enjoy and cheer for this year, but to lose this at home ... a lot of them are disappointed like we are. It wasn't enough, and I feel bad for that. I feel like I let a lot of people down."

The Jaguars' Yannick Ngakoue hits Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisbergher, causing him to fumble in the second quarter during the AFC Divisional playoff game Sunday, Jan. 14, 2018 at Heinz Field. For more images from the divisional playoff game agains the Jaguars, visit the Trib's photo gallery .

Photo by Chaz Palla

 

Roethlisberger wasn't alone in that assessment. The defense allowed Jaguars rookie Leonard Fournette to rush for 109 yards and three touchdowns. It yielded touchdown drives of 66, 75, 61 and 75 yards, two coming after the Steelers offense was stopped on fourth-and-1 situations. The Jaguars were 8 of 14 on third down and scored touchdowns all five times they got inside the Steelers 20.

And for all of the pressure the Steelers generated on quarterbacks all season — they led the NFL with a franchise-record 56 sacks — they didn't bring down Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles once.

"In the first half, we couldn't stop the run at all. Second half, we didn't convert on third down," defensive end Cam Heyward said. "It's just disappointing. Everyone's disappointed. It's a lot to crack right now."

In a hushed locker room, the Steelers faced inevitable questions about looking ahead to New England. Earlier in the week, Sports Illustrated published a weeks-old quote from safety Mike Mitchell that said the Steelers could "play them in Hell, we can play them in Haiti, we can play them in New England. ... We're gonna win."

Several veterans insisted the Steelers weren't overlooking the Jaguars, who, after all, defeated the Steelers, 30-9, at Heinz Field in October. Guard Ramon Foster pointed out the Steelers spent the bye week prepping for the Jaguars during three practices, two of which were padded.

"We practiced for a 4-3 defense. We practiced for Jacksonville for two weeks," Foster said. "We didn't overlook anybody."

Added Roethlisberger: "We were dialed in."

The Jaguars, though, were inspired by Mitchell's words and some alleged taunts they said came from Steelers players outside their locker room before the game.

"We wanted it more than the other team," Jaguars defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. said. "We showed up. We didn't talk all the trash talk they were doing this week. We were quiet. We didn't say anything. Real people are quiet, and then they throw the first punch."

The Jaguars actually threw the first three punches, jumping to a 21-0 lead in the second quarter. The weather was 18 degrees at kickoff, but it wasn't the team from Florida that came out cold. Perhaps the Steelers' slow start was attributed not to overconfidence but rust. For veterans such as Roethlisberger, Heyward and running back Le'Veon Bell, it was their first game since Christmas in Houston.

"It's a head scratcher," Heyward said. "You don't know why, but it's a group effort. It's not one person."

A 36-yard touchdown pass to Martavis Bryant with 25 seconds left in the first half cut the deficit to two touchdowns. Another touchdown on the opening drive of the second half — a 19-yard pass to Le'Veon Bell — brought the Steelers within 28-21.

But after Roethlisberger threw incomplete on fourth-and-1 at the Jacksonville 39 with 12 minutes, 50 seconds remaining, the Jaguars used a 45-yard completion to set up Fournette's third touchdown, a 3-yard run.

A 43-yard touchdown pass to Brown brought the Steelers back within seven, 35-28, but the Jaguars went right back down the field and got a 14-yard touchdown pass from Bortles to fullback Tommy Bohanon with 4:24 left.

Back came the Steelers, getting a touchdown with 2:27 left on an 8-yard lateral from Roethlisberger to Bell. An onside kick was unsuccessful, and the Jaguars used Josh Lambo's 45-yard field goal to build a 45-35 lead.

Roethlisberger threw a 4-yard touchdown pass to JuJu Smith-Schuster with one second left to bring the Steelers within three points for the first time all day.

"Nobody stopped. Nobody quit. Nobody gave up," Roethlisberger said. "That's what makes me proud of this team."

Still, it couldn't mask the disappointment that permeated the Steelers locker room.

"It was right here," Brown said. "We had all our goals in line and everything we desire, the playoffs here at Heinz Field. There's no excuse today not getting the job done."

Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at jrutter@tribweb.com or via Twitter @tribjoerutter.

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Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette dives into the end zone to score during the first quarter of an AFC Divisional playoff game against the Steelers Sunday, Jan. 14, 2017, at Heinz Field.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette dives into the end zone to score during the first quarter of an AFC Divisional playoff game against the Steelers Sunday, Jan. 14, 2017, at Heinz Field.
The Jaguar's Jalen Ramsey celebrates as Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger watches as the Jaguars' Telvin Smith returns a fumble for a touchdown in the second quarter during the AFC Divisional playoff game Sunday, Jan. 14, 2018 at Heinz Field.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Jaguar's Jalen Ramsey celebrates as Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger watches as the Jaguars' Telvin Smith returns a fumble for a touchdown in the second quarter during the AFC Divisional playoff game Sunday, Jan. 14, 2018 at Heinz Field.
Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette scores past the Steelers' Mike Mitchell and Joe Haden during the first quarter of their AFC Divisional playoff game Sunday, Jan. 14, 2017, at Heinz Field.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette scores past the Steelers' Mike Mitchell and Joe Haden during the first quarter of their AFC Divisional playoff game Sunday, Jan. 14, 2017, at Heinz Field.
The Jaguars' Yannick Ngakoue hits Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisbergher, causing him to fumble in the second quarter during the AFC Divisional playoff game Sunday, Jan. 14, 2018 at Heinz Field.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Jaguars' Yannick Ngakoue hits Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisbergher, causing him to fumble in the second quarter during the AFC Divisional playoff game Sunday, Jan. 14, 2018 at Heinz Field.
Jaguars running back T.J. Yeldon scores past the Steelers' T.J. Watt during the second quarter of their AFC Divisional playoff game Sunday, Jan. 14, 2017, at Heinz Field.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Jaguars running back T.J. Yeldon scores past the Steelers' T.J. Watt during the second quarter of their AFC Divisional playoff game Sunday, Jan. 14, 2017, at Heinz Field.
Jaguars linebacker Telvin Smith recovers a Ben Roethlisberger fumble in front of Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin during the second quarter of their AFC Divisional playoff game Sunday, Jan. 14, 2017, at Heinz Field.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Jaguars linebacker Telvin Smith recovers a Ben Roethlisberger fumble in front of Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin during the second quarter of their AFC Divisional playoff game Sunday, Jan. 14, 2017, at Heinz Field.
Jaguars linebacker Telvin Smith taunts Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell, as he returns a Ben Roethlisberger fumble for a touchdown during the second quarter of their AFC Divisional playoff game Sunday, Jan. 14, 2017, at Heinz Field.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Jaguars linebacker Telvin Smith taunts Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell, as he returns a Ben Roethlisberger fumble for a touchdown during the second quarter of their AFC Divisional playoff game Sunday, Jan. 14, 2017, at Heinz Field.
Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles eludes the Steelers' T.J. Watt during the second quarter of their AFC Divisional playoff game Sunday, Jan. 14, 2017, at Heinz Field.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles eludes the Steelers' T.J. Watt during the second quarter of their AFC Divisional playoff game Sunday, Jan. 14, 2017, at Heinz Field.
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger fumbles during the second quarter of an AFC Divisional playoff game against the Jaguars Sunday, Jan. 14, 2017, at Heinz Field.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger fumbles during the second quarter of an AFC Divisional playoff game against the Jaguars Sunday, Jan. 14, 2017, at Heinz Field.
A Pittsburgh fan sits alone in the vacated seats at Heinz Field after witnessing the Steelers loss to the Jaguars 45-42 in the NFL playoffs Sunday Jan. 14, 2018 in Pittsburgh.
Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
A Pittsburgh fan sits alone in the vacated seats at Heinz Field after witnessing the Steelers loss to the Jaguars 45-42 in the NFL playoffs Sunday Jan. 14, 2018 in Pittsburgh.
Fans walk through a snow pile on their way to Heinz Field before the start of the Steelers' game against Jacksonville on Sunday Jan. 14, 2018 in Pittsburgh.
Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
Fans walk through a snow pile on their way to Heinz Field before the start of the Steelers' game against Jacksonville on Sunday Jan. 14, 2018 in Pittsburgh.
A Steelers fan waves the Terrible Towel before the start of the NFL playoffs against Jacksonville on Sunday Jan. 14 2018 at Heinz Field.
Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
A Steelers fan waves the Terrible Towel before the start of the NFL playoffs against Jacksonville on Sunday Jan. 14 2018 at Heinz Field.
Fan Mike Thompson, of Hubbard, Ohio, watches a performance by the Steelers Steeline drumlins before the start of the Steelers' game against the Jaguars on Sunday Jan. 14,  2018 at Heinz Field.
Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
Fan Mike Thompson, of Hubbard, Ohio, watches a performance by the Steelers Steeline drumlins before the start of the Steelers' game against the Jaguars on Sunday Jan. 14, 2018 at Heinz Field.
Steelers fans walk through the slush on their way to Heinz Field for the NFL playoffs on Sunday Jan. 14, 2018 in Pittsburgh.
Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
Steelers fans walk through the slush on their way to Heinz Field for the NFL playoffs on Sunday Jan. 14, 2018 in Pittsburgh.
Steelers receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster can't catch a fourth-down pass as the Jaguars' A.J. Bouye defends during fourth quarter of their AFC Divisional playoff game Sunday, Jan. 14, 2017.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Steelers receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster can't catch a fourth-down pass as the Jaguars' A.J. Bouye defends during fourth quarter of their AFC Divisional playoff game Sunday, Jan. 14, 2017.
Dejected Steelers fans as the Jaguars beat the Steelers in the AFC Divisional playoff game Sunday, Jan. 14, 2018 at Heinz Field.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Dejected Steelers fans as the Jaguars beat the Steelers in the AFC Divisional playoff game Sunday, Jan. 14, 2018 at Heinz Field.
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger walks off the field after losing to the Jaguars in the AFC Divisional playoff game Sunday, Jan. 14, 2018 at Heinz Field.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger walks off the field after losing to the Jaguars in the AFC Divisional playoff game Sunday, Jan. 14, 2018 at Heinz Field.
Steelers defensive end Cameron Heyward reacts after the  Jaguars kick a field goal to ice the game in the fourth quarter during the AFC Divisional playoff game Sunday, Jan. 14, 2018 at Heinz Field.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers defensive end Cameron Heyward reacts after the Jaguars kick a field goal to ice the game in the fourth quarter during the AFC Divisional playoff game Sunday, Jan. 14, 2018 at Heinz Field.
The Jaguars celebrate Josh Lambo's field goal against the Steelers  in the fourth quarter during an AFC divisional playoff game Sunday, Jan. 14, 2018, at Heinz Field.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Jaguars celebrate Josh Lambo's field goal against the Steelers in the fourth quarter during an AFC divisional playoff game Sunday, Jan. 14, 2018, at Heinz Field.
A dejected Steelers' Stephon Tuitt sits on the bench at the Jaguars beat the Steelers in the AFC Divisional playoff game Sunday, Jan. 14, 2018 at Heinz Field.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
A dejected Steelers' Stephon Tuitt sits on the bench at the Jaguars beat the Steelers in the AFC Divisional playoff game Sunday, Jan. 14, 2018 at Heinz Field.
The Jaguars' Tommy Bohanon pulls in a touchdown pass against the Steelers in the AFC Divisional playoff game Sunday, Jan. 14, 2018 at Heinz Field.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Jaguars' Tommy Bohanon pulls in a touchdown pass against the Steelers in the AFC Divisional playoff game Sunday, Jan. 14, 2018 at Heinz Field.
Dejected Steelers fans as the Jaguars beat the Steelers in the AFC Divisional playoff game Sunday, Jan. 14, 2018 at Heinz Field.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Dejected Steelers fans as the Jaguars beat the Steelers in the AFC Divisional playoff game Sunday, Jan. 14, 2018 at Heinz Field.
The Steelers offensive line console Ben Roethlisberger at the end of the game after losing to the Jaguars in the AFC Divisional Playoff game Sunday, Jan. 14, 2018 at Heinz Field.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Steelers offensive line console Ben Roethlisberger at the end of the game after losing to the Jaguars in the AFC Divisional Playoff game Sunday, Jan. 14, 2018 at Heinz Field.
Steelers linebacker sit dejected on the bench as the Jaguars beat the Steelers in the AFC Divisional playoff game Sunday, Jan. 14, 2018 at Heinz Field.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers linebacker sit dejected on the bench as the Jaguars beat the Steelers in the AFC Divisional playoff game Sunday, Jan. 14, 2018 at Heinz Field.
The Steelers' Robert Golden blocks the punt of the Jaguars' Brad Nortman in the fourth quarter during the AFC Divisional playoff game Sunday, Jan. 14, 2018 at Heinz Field.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Steelers' Robert Golden blocks the punt of the Jaguars' Brad Nortman in the fourth quarter during the AFC Divisional playoff game Sunday, Jan. 14, 2018 at Heinz Field.
Dejected Steelers fans as the Jaguars beat the Steelers in the AFC Divisional playoff game Sunday, Jan. 14, 2018 at Heinz Field.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Dejected Steelers fans as the Jaguars beat the Steelers in the AFC Divisional playoff game Sunday, Jan. 14, 2018 at Heinz Field.
The Jaguars' Keelen Cole pulls in a pass behind the Steelers' Artie Burns in the fourth quarter during the AFC Divisional playoff game Sunday, Jan. 14, 2018 at Heinz Field.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Jaguars' Keelen Cole pulls in a pass behind the Steelers' Artie Burns in the fourth quarter during the AFC Divisional playoff game Sunday, Jan. 14, 2018 at Heinz Field.
Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette scores past the Steelers' Joe Haden during the first quarter of their AFC Divisional playoff game Sunday, Jan. 14, 2017, at Heinz Field.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette scores past the Steelers' Joe Haden during the first quarter of their AFC Divisional playoff game Sunday, Jan. 14, 2017, at Heinz Field.
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger walks off the field after losing to the Jaguars in the AFC Divisional playoff game Sunday, Jan. 14, 2018 at Heinz Field.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger walks off the field after losing to the Jaguars in the AFC Divisional playoff game Sunday, Jan. 14, 2018 at Heinz Field.
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