Guest of the League
2018 GSI Playoff Challenge
One and Done League - FFL: Week 3 | NFL: Championship

Jaguars surging, Steelers wary in high-stakes rematch

2018-01-13 03:17:10
By WILL GRAVES
AP Sports Writer

Players: Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, Blake Bortles, Leonard Fournette

In this Sunday, Jan. 7, 2018 file photo, Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles (5) warms up before the start of an NFL wild-card playoff football game against the Buffalo Bills in Jacksonville, Fla. Blake Bortles first postseason victory came with a hefty dose of criticism, maybe even more than ever before. The Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback handled it as well as he did Buffalos pass rush. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton, File)


Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) passes in drills during an NFL football practice, Friday, Jan. 12, 2018, in Pittsburgh. The Steelers host the Jacksonville Jaguars in a divisional playoff on Sunday. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)


In this Oct. 8, 2017, file photo, Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin, left, and Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone walk away after a brief encounter after an NFL football game, in Pittsburgh.The Jaguars and Steelers play in a division playoff game on Sunday, Jan. 14, 2018, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Don Wright, File)


Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown (84) makes a catch during drills in an NFL football practice, Thursday, Jan. 11, 2018, in Pittsburgh. The Steelers host the Jacksonville Jaguars in a divisional playoff on Sunday. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)


PITTSBURGH (AP) At the time the score looked like a misprint.

Jacksonville 30. Pittsburgh 9 .

On the road.

A result so stunningly one-sided Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger stood in the locker room on that gray October afternoon only half-jokingly wondered if he still had ''it.''

Throwing five interceptions, two of which the Jaguars returned for momentum-swinging, confidence-sapping touchdowns, will do that.

Yet Roethlisberger insists he's not out for revenge in the rematch on Sunday when the Jaguars (11-6) visit Heinz Field in the divisional round with a trip to the AFC title game on the line.

There's too much at stake for him to settle some sort of personal vendetta.

Or so he says.

''I'll play anyone in the postseason,'' Roethlisberger said.

Only Jacksonville isn't ''anyone.'' Not anymore. Not after the NFL's top-ranked defense proved that breakout performance three months ago was a sign of things to come.

The Jaguars don't play a particularly pretty brand of football. They also don't particularly care.

Doubt them all you want. Mock their offense at your leisure.

Last they checked, there will be 24 teams watching the playoffs this weekend and Jacksonville isn't one of them.

''We've just got to score one more point than they do,'' Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles said.

''It doesn't matter who scores it, where it comes from, how we do it, what it looks like, we score one more than them and I'm happy with how we did it.''

Bortles and the other 52 guys on the roster might be the only ones.

The Steelers (13-3) entered the season as one of the favorites to reach the Super Bowl.

Despite a fall filled with drama (much of it self-created) Pittsburgh was really only pushed around once. By the Jaguars.

Take Jacksonville lightly at your peril, something the Steelers found out on Oct. 8.

''Some people come in thinking a team may be easier by their record or tougher by their record, but we know that can't be on our mind,'' Pittsburgh running back Le'Veon Bell said.

''I think that kind of got us in the first game because the Jacksonville Jaguars, they're normally not a good team but those guys got players this year. They've been making plays.''

If the Jaguars can do it for another 60 minutes, they'll reach the NFL's final four for just the third time in franchise history.

Yes, really.

Some things to look for as the Jaguars try to pull off a second stunner against a team that believes its season is destined to end with a trip to Minneapolis for the Super Bowl.

AB's BACK: Pittsburgh All-Pro wide receiver Antonio Brown is expected to play after missing the final 2+ games of the regular season with a left calf contusion. Brown practiced all week, though he was sent home on Friday because of an illness.

Brown caught 10 passes for 157 yards in the first meeting with Jacksonville and his return means all of Pittsburgh's ''Killer Bs'' will be ready to go.

''If he's out there, I expect him to be AB,'' Steelers cornerback Joe Haden said.

LEONARD'S LEAP: Jaguars rookie running back Leonard Fournette hammered the Steelers for a season-high 181 yards in October, including a 2-yard touchdown leap and a 90-yard sprint to the end zone in the final two minutes that sealed it. Fournette's production has dipped in recent weeks. He's only averaged higher than 3.9 yards per carry once over the past eight weeks, though Bortles doesn't think Fournette has smacked into the rookie wall.

''There has obviously been some hiccups and bumps in the road with different things,'' Bortles said. ''It's not on him, it's on guys up front, it's on me getting us in the right play, receivers blocking. It's on everyone.''

CHILL OUT DUDE: Temperatures are expected to be in the teens at kickoff, a decided departure for the Jaguars.

While Jacksonville coach Doug Marrone downplayed the elements, Bell believes he has an advantage when the mercury drops.

A year ago against Miami in the wild-card round, he pounded the Dolphins for 167 yards and two touchdowns as the temperature hovered around 17 degrees.

''It definitely affects guys who are tackling,'' Bell said. ''That's why when it's cold outside I take a lot of pride because I know guys don't want to tackle.''

COACH SHAY: Injured Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier spent some time at the team's facility this week, getting around in a wheelchair while recovering from spinal stabilization surgery last month following a hit against Cincinnati that left his lower body motionless.

Shazier's presence has provided the Steelers with a boost, and while his football career is likely over, he remains intent on finding a way to contribute. Shazier, who would get to work as early as 6 a.m. to break down film when he was playing, is now serving as equal parts advance scout and motivational speaker.

''He loves football so much,'' guard David DeCastro said. ''It's amazing to see and just to have the attitude he has after all he's been through man, it's pretty impressive. I don't know if I'd be able to do the same.''

Player Notes
Marcus Mariota Jan 15 10:30pm ET

The Tennessee Titans will interview Rams offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur for their vacant head coaching position, according to a person with knowledge of the situation. LaFleur was working under the tutelage of impressive young Rams head coach Sean McVay in 2017, and he also worked with him in Washington. It would be an outside-the-box hire, but perhaps that's what the Titans need after being held hostage by head coach Mike Mularkey and his offensive assistants this season. The main order of business for the next Titans head coach will be improving quarterback Marcus Mariota and getting the most out of their receiving corps.

Ted Ginn Jr. Jan 15 9:23pm ET

New Orleans Saints wide receiver Ted Ginn finished with a team-high eight receptions in a loss to Minnesota on Sunday. He ended up with 72 yards, but no touchdowns. Ginn made a 29-yard reception that went for a touchdown in the second quarter, but it was nullified by a penalty and wiped out. Ginn technically did not post career highs this season, but it's hard to argue that it wasn't his most successful season as a receiver. He gelled extremely well with Drew Brees and seems to have found a home in New Orleans.

T.J. Yeldon Jan 15 9:22pm ET

Jacksonville Jaguars running back T.J. Yeldon caught three passes for 57 yards and added 20 rushing yards with a touchdown in the Jaguars stunning 45-42 victory over the Steelers. Yeldon and Leonard Fournette pounded the Steelers defensive front the entire game and Yeldon came up huge in the latter stages. The veteran running back has suffered an injury-riddled season but is coming up big at just the right time. The Jaguars will look to continue to pound the rock next week when the Jaguars play the Patriots for the right to go to the Super Bowl. Yeldon's role in the offensive game plan could increase next week.

Blake Bortles Jan 15 7:43pm ET

Jacksonville Jaguars QB Blake Bortles has averaged just 193 passing yards in away games this season while throwing six touchdowns and eight interceptions in those contests.

Ben Roethlisberger Jan 15 5:53pm ET

Pittsburgh Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger has informed teammates that he would like to play three more years in the NFL. Roethlisberger had already announced that he would be returning for the 2018 season.

Ben Roethlisberger Jan 15 5:50pm ET

Pittsburgh Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley may be out of a job in Pittsburgh according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Haley does not have a contract for 2018, and his relationship with Ben Roethlisberger became increasingly fractured in 2017. One Steelers source told the Post-Gazette that one of the reasons Big Ben openly contemplated retirement was his failing rapport with Haley. The two "rarely talked along the sidelines," and "never huddled to discuss strategy" during games. Roethlisberger reportedly requested QBs coach Randy Fichtner to come down from the booth to create a game-day "buffer" between the quarterback and Pittsburgh's OC. Fichtner is reportedly a "strong candidate" to replace Haley if the offensive coordinator is not re-signed.

Andrew Luck Jan 15 5:30pm ET

With news that New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels is likely to become the next coach for the Indianapolis Colts, Dallas Cowboys linebackers coach Matt Eberflus is reportedly expected to follow as the team's defensive coordinator according to NFL Network reporter Tom Pelissero. Eberflus just completed his seventh season with the Cowboys and is infamous for his success in the development of linebackers Sean Lee, Anthony Hitchens, and Jaylon Smith. His addition to the Colts could certainly help to reform a defense that is in shambles overall but full of young talent. The pieces are starting to come together in Indianapolis and the return of a fully healthy Andrew Luck should have fans raising expectations for the 2018/19 season.

Xavier Grimble Jan 15 5:23pm ET

Pittsburgh Steelers TE Xavier Grimble and LS Kameron Canaday were signed to one-year contract extensions Monday, Jan. 15. Financial terms were not disclosed.

Le'Veon Bell Jan 15 4:30pm ET

Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell told reporters on Sunday that he wanted to stay in Pittsburgh but that circumstances may prevent that from happening. When asked about whether he wants to stay in Pittsburgh, Bell responded, "Of course. I never want to leave this city, but obviously, circumstances and things like that. But I definitely don't." He went on to say that he thinks the Steelers have the right group of guys to make a run in the playoffs in 2018, although he wouldn't elaborate when asked whether he was part of that group. Bell is a free agent this offseason and has previously stated that he would rather retire than be franchised by the Steelers again. There are already reports out that Pittsburgh plans to disregard Bell's wishes and place the franchise tag designation on their All-Pro running back this offseason. Bell sat out this past preseason to show his displeasure with the organization for not offering him a long-term deal and appears prepared to battle with them over his contract yet again this offseason.

Marcus Mariota Jan 15 4:20pm ET

The Cleveland Browns are rumored to be interested in adding Mike Mularkey to their staff as their new offensive coordinator. Mularkey was fired by the Tennessee Titans two days after losing to the New England Patriots in the Divisional Round of the playoffs. The Browns have been without an offensive coordinator for the two seasons of Hue Jackson's coaching stint but it is clear the team would like to add someone to fill the role after Jackson has gone 1-31 over the past two seasons while calling his own plays on offense. Of course, it would be a classic Browns move to hire Mularkey as their OC after the main reason the Titans let him go was his inability to get the most out of Marcus Mariota, Corey Davis, Derrick Henry, and the rest of the Titans offense.

Cliff Avril Jan 15 4:13pm ET

Seattle Seahawks DE Cliff Avril (neck) plans on trying to play again despite undergoing neck surgery and missing most of last season. Avril will turn 32 years old this offseason.

Martavis Bryant Jan 15 4:00pm ET

Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Martavis Bryant caused a stir during the regular season when he went to social media to complain about his role on the team and later requested a trade from the team. The young receiver has changed his tune after his team's Divisional Round loss to the Jaguars on Sunday, telling reporters he wants to be back with the team next year and will be ready for organized team activities, stating his desire to win a Super Bowl with the team. It was unlikely that the team would have traded Bryant this offseason anyway after they responded to his previous tirade and trade demand by suspending him for one game. Look for Bryant to resume his role as the team's No. 3 wide receiver in 2018.

Eli Rogers Jan 15 3:50pm ET

Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Eli Rogers suffered a leg injury during his team's 45-42 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars in the Divisional Round of the playoffs. Rogers was off to a nice start for the Steelers, catching five passes for 42 yards before departing in the fourth quarter. He was spotted on crutches after the game with a wrap on his lower right leg. For what it's worth, Rogers sent a tweet on Sunday night which said, "I am fine. Thanks to all the fans for your concerns." The 25-year-old slot receiver has shown some potential for the Steelers but he remains a distant fourth in the pecking order in the passing game.

Marcus Peters Jan 15 3:20pm ET

Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Darrelle Revis said he'd like to return for a 12th season in 2018 despite not playing that well in his brief time with the Chiefs. The 32-year-old didn't practice or play until late November but joined the Chiefs and played in five games and the Wild-Card loss to the Titans. However, he was the third cornerback behind Marcus Peters and Steven Nelson, although Revis did start two games. He'll be under contract for $10 million in 2018, a steep price for a cornerback at the end of his career. Revis plans on taking part in offseason practices and training camp next year, so his quality play could improve if he stays healthy. At this point of his career, though, Revis is more of veteran depth and is unlikely to be a difference maker.

Carlos Henderson Jan 15 3:10pm ET

Denver Broncos rookie wide receiver Carlos Henderson was arrested for marijuana possession in Louisiana on Sunday. He was the team's third-round pick in the 2017 draft, but he didn't play at all in 2017 due to a thumb injury. Police officers said Henderson admitted to smoking marijuana earlier on Sunday but denied smoking in the vehicle. Henderson is more of a speedy slot receiver, but this development coupled with his injury means the Broncos won't be able to rely on him in 2018.

Andrew Sendejo Jan 15 3:10pm ET

Minnesota Vikings safety Andrew Sendejo (concussion) suffered a concussion in the Divisional Round win over the Saints on Sunday, and he did not return to the game. Sendejo is an important part of Minnesota's stingy secondary, and he'll have to pass the league's concussion protocol in order to face the Eagles in the NFC title game next weekend.

Tyrod Taylor Jan 15 3:10pm ET

The Buffalo Bills hired Brian Daboll as their new offensive coordinator on Sunday. It's an underwhelming hire for a coach that has been an assistant for several different NFL teams but hasn't seen much success. He's coming off a national title with Alabama in college, but he'll have his work cut out for him with Buffalo. The Bills are likely to move on from quarterback Tyrod Taylor this offseason, so Daboll will be tasked with implementing a new quarterback to the fold.

Martavis Bryant Jan 15 2:53pm ET

Pittsburgh Steelers WR Martavis Bryant said he wants to return to the Steelers next season and will be ready for offseason workouts.

Pat Shurmur Jan 15 2:53pm ET

The New York Giants are expected to hire Minnesota Vikings offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur as their next head coach, according to sources.

Marcus Mariota Jan 15 2:50pm ET

The belief is that Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels would prefer the Titans head coaching position over all the others. The health of Colts quarterback Andrew Luck (shoulder) is an issue, and McDaniels likes the high ceiling of Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota. The Colts job isn't all that attractive unless Luck is able to return in 2018, and right now that is a big if. Tennessee's roster is much more balanced, especially on offense, and McDaniels may covet the opportunity to try and improve Mariota and a run-first, smashmouth offensive line. McDaniels won't be able to make a decision until New England's season is over.