The Pittsburgh Steelers will be favored against Jacksonville in the AFC Divisional Playoffs on Sunday, but they’re not taking anything for granted. That’s because Jacksonville beat Pittsburgh, 30-9, at Heinz Field in Week 5 – a game in which Ben Roethlisberger threw five interceptions, including a pair of picks-sixes.
“Listen, we definitely aren’t taking them lightly,” Steelers linebacker Arthur Moats said on Tiki and Tierney. “The first time we played them, they got after us really good. That was a bad taste we had in our mouth, especially when we looked at our record and it came down to the last couple of games for home-field advantage. That’s the game that really stuck out to us the most.”
Indeed, much was made of Pittsburgh’s home loss to the Patriots in Week 15, but if the Steelers (13-3) had beaten the Jags in Week 5, the New England game would have been irrelevant – at least in terms of seeding.
Pittsburgh, though, has a chance to avenge two of its regular-season losses. The key against Jacksonville will be slowing rookie Leonard Fournette, who rushed 28 times for 181 yards and two touchdowns against the Steelers in October.
“We know going in that we’re going to have to stop Fournette,” Moats said. “I felt like the Bills did a great job as far as minimizing his role. But with Bortles, not only does he have that game-manager mentality, but he was able to make some plays with his legs and extend some drives. Ultimately, I felt like that was the difference in the game.”
Bortles, in fact, had more rushing yards than passing yards in Jacksonville’s 10-3 Wild Card win. He carried 10 times for a game-high 88 yards and finished 12-of-23 for 87 yards and a touchdown.
Bortles will face a red-hot Ben Roethlisberger, who has led Pittsburgh to victory in 10 of his last 11 games. Roethlisberger turns 36 in March, so the Steelers know they don’t have many more cracks at a Super Bowl with Big Ben under center.
“We definitely understand time is of the essence,” Moats said. “We understand the importance of making it happen this year. We all know that every year the team’s not going to be the same. Guys are going to come and go, contracts, free agency, trades – we know if we want to make this group special, if we want to make this group cemented in history together, we have to do that this year. That’s been the mindset regardless of guys considering retirement. We know we have a special group here, and the only way to solidify how special we really are is by winning the Super Bowl.”
Moats also discussed Ryan Shazier, who suffered a spinal injury in a 23-20 win at Cincinnati on Dec. 4. Shazier, 25, has reportedly regained feeling in his legs.
“When he first went down, it was extremely tough,” Moats said. “He’s such a dynamic player that you can’t just replace him with one person. That was the biggest thing we all had to understand. Don’t go out out here and try to be (Shazier). Go out there and just be you and be your best in that role and collectively we’ll get the job done.”
The Steelers hope to do that again Sunday. Kickoff is at 1:05 p.m. ET.