Grades for Jaguars 45, Steelers 42
He is the new Steelers' playoff-game record-holder for passing yards (469) and touchdowns (five) — as well as attempts (58) and completions (37) — but Ben Roethlisberger was accurate when he said it was "on me" in regards to his two turnovers. That interception and fumble both came in the first half, and both led to Jacksonville touchdowns. Roethlisberger's legacy is a Hall of Fame one, but he's running out of years to add to his Super Bowl total.
For all that went wrong, the Steelers set a team playoff record for total yards, and seven players caught passes. Vance McDonald had a career game, Antonio Brown made plays (two touchdowns) despite nursing his calf injury and Le'Veon Bell accumulated 155 yards from scrimmage. But Bell failed on short yardage twice, and McDonald had multiple drops.
Offensive line: B-
The line, too, is culpable for the failures on fourth-and-1s. Roethlisberger was sacked twice and hit seven times — but remember, he dropped back on 60 occasions. Jacksonville has one of the better front sevens in the league, and although the Steelers offensive line was dominated early, things improved as the game progressed.
Defensive line: C-
Similarly, in the first half it was the Jaguars who were getting push on the Steelers front. The Steelers did better in the second half, but the group of Cameron Heyward, Stephon Tuitt, Javon Hargrave, Tyson Alualu and L.T. Walton combined for seven tackles, no sacks, one tackle for loss and no quarterback hits. Leonard Fournette and T.J. Yeldon had too many holes to run through.
With no Ryan Shazier, Sean Spence is doing the best he can. But Fournette too often grinded extra yards into the secondary. When facing a run-first team and two of the top three tacklers are safeties, that's not good. The pressure on Blake Bortles from the edge linebackers was almost nonexistent, though T.J. Watt had two quarterback hits and a pass defended.
Two more 40-plus-yard pass plays allowed makes it 15 in 17 games this season. That's unacceptable, as is allowing 214 passing yards to Bortles (he had 87 last week), as is allowing so many third-down conversions (six) on passes by Bortles. The Steelers were saved by not having any top-flight wide receivers (or a quarterback) to deal with.
Special teams: C
The return game, on whole, was better than Jacksonville's, though it wasn't special. A deflected punt by Robert Golden could have been a pivotal play. Jordan Berry's two punts were mediocre at best. Chris Boswell's try at an onside kick was, well, not good.
The offensive gameplan of leaning heavily on McDonald and Eli Rogers was curious, but it's difficult to argue with the results in terms of the points and yardage production. The two fourth-and-1 playcalls are worthy of second-guesses, too. Defensively, the outcome, of course, was atrocious. But the execution seemed more at fault than the coaching. Fans surely will hammer coach Mike Tomlin for another week of distractions and for setting the tone of looking ahead to New England, but how do they explain that neither of those were factors all season until this game?
The Jaguars are better than a lot of Steelers fans give them credit for, but that doesn't mean this still isn't a dud of a loss. The AFC championship rematch that so many were looking forward to won't happen because the Steelers let a Bortles offense come onto their field and put up 45 points. As a result, 2017 will forever be remembered as a missed opportunity for Roethlisberger and this nucleus of Steelers.
Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @C_AdamskiTrib.