The Jacksonville Jaguars upset the Pittsburgh Steelers to book their place in the AFC Championship game on Sunday. Leonard Fournette ran for 109 yards and three touchdowns and the Jaguars defense forced two turnovers en route to a 45-42 victory over the Steelers in the divisional playoff game at Heinz Field.
The Jaguars (12-6) jumped out to a 21-0 lead and it looked like they'd cruise to another blowout victory, just as they did on October 8 when they intercepted Ben Roethlisberger five times in a 30-9 win.
Roethlisberger was picked again on Sunday and lost a fumble, which Jaguars linebacker Telvin Smith returned 50 yards to give the Jags a 28-7 lead with two minutes remaining in the first half.
The Jaguars, who became the first visiting team since 2002 to score at least 30 points at Heinz Field twice in the same season, advance to play the new England Patriots in next Sunday's AFC Championship game.
The Steelers (13-4) were shellshocked from the opening series as the Jaguars marched 66 yards on eight plays. Fournette capped the drive by going airborne for a one-yard dive into the end zone on fourth-and-goal.
Despite a monster game from Steelers receiver Antonio Brown, who finished with seven catches for 132 yards and two touchdowns, the Jaguars answered each score. Brown scored on a 23-yard touchdown in the second quarter to get the Steelers on the board.
The Jaguars answered with Smith's fumble return. After the Jaguars grabbed a 35-21 lead, Roethlisberger and Brown connected again for a 43-yard strike with 9:05 remaining in the game.
But the Jaguars again answered Blake Bortles tossed his only touchdown pass — a 14-yard toss to fullback Tyler Bohanan off a play-action fake to Fournette.
It was a masterful gameplan put in place by Jaguars offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett as the Jags move on to face the defending Super Bowl champions.
As he's been all season, Bortles was wildly inconsistent on Sunday. While the Jaguars are in the AFC championship game, it's because of the NFL's second-ranked defence and the league's top rush unit led by Fournette.
Bortles seemed incapable of throwing a spiral while completing 14 of his 26 pass attempts for 214 yards. He did run for 35 yards, but if the Jaguars are indeed going to take the next step as a championship-calibre team, they will need to make an upgrade at quarterback.
Roethlisberger is 6-5 and 240 pounds. When the Steelers needed less than one yard on two separate fourth downs, they did not simply have Roethlisberger lean forward to get the first down. They first called a pitch play to the short side as Le'Veon Bell was dropped for a four-yard loss after the Jaguars built a 14-0 lead.
The Steelers had another fourth-and-one early in the fourth quarter and Roethlisberger threw an incomplete pass downfield to JuJu Smith-Schuster. Those two plays stood out on a day that saw many of Haley's play calls questioned by fans. There were rumblings that Haley could be out after six seasons and Sunday's game might have been the final straw.
The Steelers needed to establish the run but passed on four of the first five plays. Roethlisberger had gaudy numbers, going 37 of 58 for 469 yards and five touchdowns with one incredible interception by Myles Jack that led to Fournette's second touchdown.
Haley wasn't the only one to make questionable calls. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin opted for an onside kick after the Steelers made it a 42-35 score on an eight-yard Bell touchdown. The Jaguars recovered and the short field resulted in a Josh Lambo field goal to put the game out of reach.
The Jaguars gave up 42 points, largely because of Brown's magical plays. That doesn't mean the Jags defence had a bad day. The "Sacksonville" unit dropped Roethlisberger twice and held Bell to 67 yards on 16 carries. Of course, the Jaguars defence also scored to answer a Steelers touchdown.
Pittsburgh might have the most offensive talent of any team in the league but the Jaguars got the better of them twice. Now they face Tom Brady and the Patriots in New England with a chance to go to the Super Bowl for the first time in franchise history.