Tim Benz: Steelers Nation fooled itself into thinking Jaguars were a fluke
If the Jaguars have to play New England in Haiti for the AFC Championship, that might not be a bad deal.
At least Jacksonville-to-Haiti is a shorter flight than it is to Foxborough, Mass.
The Steelers have no such concerns. In the words of Jacksonville defensive end Malik Jackson: "They said they were gonna be in Boston. So I guess they are going to be in Boston watching us. We'll send them Jags jerseys so they can support us."
Never have I seen a locker room enjoy a victory so much over an opposing team as Jacksonville's 45-42 playoff win over the Steelers.
Whether it was Mike Mitchell's "Hell or Haiti" quote before the regular season finale about playing the Patriots again, Mike Tomlin's November NBC interview forecasting the prospect of a rematch against New England even before the first meeting occurred or Le'Veon Bell's tweet suggesting the Steelers were going to have two rematches in the playoffs, the Jaguars seemed inspired by what they perceived to be a disrespecting Steelers team that looked ahead.
"For them to talk like we didn't smack them in the mouth the first time (30-9 in Week 5), it meant a lot to us, and it disrespected us," Jackson said.
"They received a (butt) kicking and acted like they didn't get their (butts) kicked, so we did it again. Now they are going to have a long offseason and worry about how the Jags kicked their (butts)."
I'll admit I thought the Steelers would win . But I thought it would be close. I never bought into a popular fan and media narrative that grew throughout the week: "You watch! It'll be just like Miami last year."
In other words, the Steelers would do to the Jaguars what they did to the Dolphins last season. They got destroyed in South Florida (30-15) early in the season. Then they flipped the script and won a playoff rematch, 30-12.
If you listened to Pittsburgh sports talk radio this week, you heard that notion a lot.
If you believed it, you were insane.
This Jacksonville team is far better than that Miami team. This Jacksonville team won here twice. That Miami team, didn't have its starting quarterback in Round 2. That Steeler defense was playing better as the year went on. This one was getting worse.
I'm not sure if the Steelers tried to talk themselves into thinking that October 8th game against Jacksonville was a fluke, but many on the outside sure did.
Those who did were sorely mistaken.
No, Jacksonville didn't force Ben Roethlisberger into five turnovers this time. But he did have two, including a strip-sack fumble that went for a touchdown.
Leonard Fournette, who allegedly had hit the rookie wall, didn't have 181 yards rushing this time. But he did have 109 yards and three scores.
Bell did exceed his rushing total of 47 yards from October. But only by 20.
All week, the intentional dismissal of the team's history over recent years was stunning to me.
"What? Do you really think Blake Bortles can quarterback a win over the Steelers in a playoff game?"
Well, Tim Tebow did. David Garrard beat a Tomlin team twice 10 years ago at Heinz Field.
The Fournette angle was perhaps the most galling lie we told ourselves in a weeklong quest to parse away why Jacksonville won here earlier in the season. The yarn spun by Steelers optimists suggested Fournette's yardage total was bloated by a 90-yard romp at the end of the first game. Prior to that, he only was averaging 3.3 yards per carry. The defensive line wasn't overpowered. The team was just unsound in its gap control.
That wasn't just fans and media saying so. Steelers defenders were, too. No such couching of the numbers this time as Fournette clipped 4.4 yards per carry on 25 attempts.
The Pittsburgh defensive front wasn't outschemed. It was just beaten. Soundly.
"We were able to get a hat on a hat," said offensive lineman A.J. Cann. "We stayed on our blocks. The running backs found holes and got positive yards."
Oh, by the way, no sacks of Blake Bortles either. Or forced turnovers.
Lightning can strike twice. And even if an actual lightning bolt had struck Fournette on Sunday, it probably wouldn't have knocked him down. Nothing else in Pittsburgh did this year.
Why do we pretend history can't repeat itself with these Steelers? We do it every time they play the Patriots. Now we've done it twice in the Tomlin-era with Jaguars.
At least this loss will prevent us from doing it again with the Pats.
Tomlin and his Steelers have a new "elephant in the room" for next year. That elephant isn't from New England. It's from Jacksonville.
Tim Benz hosts the Steelers pregame show on WDVE and ESPN Pittsburgh. He is a regular host/contributor on KDKA-TV and 105.9 FM.