The Pittsburgh Steelers wanted a rematch with Jacksonville. They wanted to show that Week 5 was a fluke, and they wanted to exact revenge before heading to Foxboro to face New England in the AFC Championship.
But then 21-0 happened. And then 28-7. And, ultimately, 45-42.
Yes, the Steelers’ season came to an end Sunday, and Mike Tomlin is taking heat.
“He sets this tone for the team and has for years of (being) ultra-confident, ultra-aggressive, we don’t back down from anyone – and there have been times when it’s backfired,” FOX Sports NFL analyst Charles Davis said on Tiki and Tierney. “In this game, they were out-played from the word go. They made some questionable decisions.”
Like not rushing Le’Veon Bell up the gut or sneaking Ben Roethlisberger on 4th-and-short. Or like trying an onside kick in the fourth quarter with three stoppages still in their back pocket.
“Mike’s got to deal with his own team in the locker room,” Davis said, “but if the defense came at him and said, ‘I can’t believe you (went for the onside kick),’ I think he’s got a legit defense to say, ‘And when exactly did we stop these guys?’”
Leonard Fournette had a pair of first-quarter touchdowns – one on the Jaguars’ first drive, and one on their first play following a Big Ben interception. It was 14-0 in a flash – and, for Pittsburgh, an uphill climb thereafter.
“It was 50/50,” Davis said of the decision to go for the onside kick, “and (Tomlin) lost.”
The aforementioned Fournette punished the Steelers for the second time this season. After rushing for 181 yards and two touchdowns in Week 5, he rushed for 109 yards and three scores Sunday.
He also did much of this damage on a gimpy ankle. Fournette left the game early in the second quarter and was questionable to return.
But he did – and the Jags won as a result.
“The Leonard Fournette we saw at LSU that would get dinged and we might not see again, we saw a different Leonard Fournette Sunday – and that was huge for him,” Davis said. “Tiki, you’ve played through God-knows-what. Leonard Fournette, in his college career, how many times did you see him look like the stud he is and then you didn’t see him for two quarters? When I saw him go off yesterday, I said, ‘Oh, boy, here we go again.’ When he came back and ran the way he ran, I think that was a breakthrough and watershed moment of his young career.”
Jacksonville will face New England in the AFC Championship this Sunday at 3:05 p.m. ET. The game might be decided in the first half.
“If New England comes out and gets off to that fast start and sets the pace like a horse race and Jacksonville’s doing the chasing, it changes what you do,” Davis said, “and it changes Blake Bortles in a key way.”
In the NFC, meanwhile, the Falcons lost in Philly despite allowing just 15 points. That’s what happens when Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and the offense put just 10 points on the board.
“There’s a disconnect in Atlanta offensively that they’re still trying to figure out,” Davis said, “and that’s strange to me that deep into the season.”