Brady seemed fine in Sunday warm-up
Not satisfied with a worst-to-first finish in their division, the upstart Jacksonville Jaguars look to continue their remarkable run when they visit the top-seeded New England Patriots for Sunday’s AFC Championship Game. Jacksonville will have to solve the most successful coach-quarterback tandem in league history, although four-time Super Bowl MVP Tom Brady missed practice again Thursday with an injured right hand.
The Patriots are appearing in their seventh consecutive AFC Championship Game, but coach Bill Belichick dismissed the idea that the been-there-won-that factor gives his team a huge edge. “I don’t think experience has anything to do with that,” Belichick, who has guided New England to seven Super Bowls – winning five – since 2001, told reporters. “It is what happens Sunday, not what happened last year, two years ago, five years ago, 15 years ago, 1996 or whatever it is. Those games don’t make any difference, with all due respect.” The third-seeded Jaguars are brimming with confidence, with star cornerback Jalen Ramsey predicting a victory over the Patriots in the wake of last week’s 45-42 win at No. 2 seed Pittsburgh. Coach Doug Marrone acknowledged that New England presents “a great challenge for us” and fully expects to see Brady, saying, “I’m sure he could probably throw left-handed if he has a problem with his right hand and throw just as well.”
TV: 3:05 p.m. ET, CBS. LINE: Patriots -7.5. O/U: 46.5
ABOUT THE JAGUARS (12-6): Jacksonville features the league’s top-ranked rushing attack led by rookie Leonard Fournette, who ran for 109 yards and three touchdowns last week but also nicked an ankle that limited him in practice Wednesday and Thursday. Blake Bortles completed just 53.1 percent of his passes in the two playoff wins, but he has not committed a turnover after tossing five interceptions in the final two regular-season games. The Jaguars will try to slow the NFL’s top offense with a defense that surrenders a league-low 169.9 yards passing while ranking second in sacks (55) and interceptions (21). Ramsey and cornerback A.J. Bouye combined for 10 picks while defensive ends Calais Campbell (14.5) and Yannick Ngakoue (12) accounted for nearly half of the team’s sacks.
ABOUT THE PATRIOTS (14-3): Brady owns the most postseason wins (26) in history and added to his playoff legacy last week, passing for more than 300 yards for the 13th time and surpassing Joe Montana with his 10th three-touchdown performance. Journeyman Brian Hoyer is the only quarterback on the roster besides Brady, who hasn’t missed a game due to injury since 2008 and completed at least three passes to five different receivers in last week’s 35-14 rout of Tennessee. Dion Lewis has rushed for at least 60 yards in seven of his last eight games and added a season-high nine catches last week while tight end Rob Gronkowski has 34 receptions and four touchdowns over his last four contests. New England is vulnerable to the run, ranking 20th at 114.8 yards allowed, but it permits only 18.5 points per game.
1. Brady can became the first QB in history with four straight playoff games of least 300 yards passing and multiple TDs.
2. Jacksonville led the NFL with seven defensive TDs during the regular season and added another score versus Pittsburgh.
3. The Patriots are 6-1 in AFC title games at home and have won 10 of their 11 all-time meetings with Jacksonville.
Case Keenum (7)
PITTSBURGH – Leonard Fournette rushed for three touchdowns, Telvin Smith returned a fumble 50 yards for a score and the Jacksonville Jaguars upset the Pittsburgh Steelers 45-42 in the divisional round of the AFC playoffs at Heinz Field on Sunday.
Jacksonville advanced to the AFC Championship for the first time since 1999 and will face New England, which dominated Tennessee 35-14 on Saturday.
Fournette finished with 109 yards on 25 carries. He left in the second quarter with an ankle injury but returned in the second half and finished with 109 yards on a game-high 25 carries.
“It’s the same ankle that has been bothering me,” said Fournette. “It just landed the wrong way … every time you re-injure anything, especially the ankle … it hurt a little bit.”
Steelers receiver Antonio Brown made his first appearance since Dec. 17 when he injured his left calf against the Patriots. He still managed to lead the league with 1,533 receiving yards despite missing the final two games of the season.
Brown finished with 132 yards on seven receptions with two touchdowns.
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was 37-of-58 passing and set a franchise playoff record with 469 yards. He also threw for five touchdowns with an interception.
“We didn’t get it done, we didn’t play well enough today,” said Steelers coach Mike Tomlin. “The effort was there, the resolve was there, but just not enough detailed execution to win against good people in January football. That’s about the only way to cut it.”
The game was a rematch from Week 5 when Jacksonville dismantled Pittsburgh 30-9, also at Heinz Field. This time, Jacksonville led by 21 points twice in the first-half lead and then withstood a late rally.
The Steelers pulled to within 28-21 on a 19-yard touchdown pass from Roethlisberger to Le’Veon Bell with 9:09 left in the third quarter.
The Jaguars regained the momentum by forcing an incomplete pass on a 4th-and-1 at their own 39 early in the fourth quarter. Blake Bortles threw a 45-yard pass to Keelan Cole to the 3-yard line, setting up Fournette’s career-best third touchdown of the game.
The Steelers would not go away, and Roethlisberger threw a 43-yard touchdown pass to Brown on a 4th-and-5, cutting the margin to 35-28 with 9:05 left in the game. Bortles answered with a 14-yard touchdown pass to Tommy Bohanon.
Pittsburgh refused to quit, and a lateral by Roethlisberger to Bell set up an 8-yard score that pulled the Steelers to 42-35. The Jaguars recovered the onside kick and sealed the game on a 45-yard field goal by Josh Lambo.
Roethlisberger rounded out the scoring with a 4-yard pass to JuJu Smith-Schuster with one second left.
“They kept fighting throughout the duration,” said Fournette. “We just knew that every time they scored, we had to come back and score and put a drive together to help our defense gather their breaths.”
Bortles completed 14 of 26 pass attempts for 214 yards with the touchdown, a week after becoming just the second quarterback in the past 25 years to have more rushing yards than passing yards in a playoff game.
“I’m sure there will still be tons of people that are going to disapprove or talk negative or hate and do whatever they want,” said Bortles. “But we get to keep playing, we get another opportunity to go play in Foxborough next week. Just honored to be able to do it, especially with this group of guys.”
The Jaguars took a 7-0 lead on the game’s opening possession on a 1-yard run by Fournette on a 4th-and-goal. An interception by Myles Jack set up an 18-yard touchdown by Fournette, stunning the sell-out crowd.
Jacksonville stuffed Bell for a 4-yard loss on a 4th-and-1 at the Jaguars’ 25 on the ensuing drive. That led to a 4-yard scoring run by T.J. Yeldon, boosting the lead to 21-0 with 11:31 left in the half. Pittsburgh finally got on the board on a 23-yard touchdown pass from Roethlisberger to Brown.
The Jaguars regained the momentum when Yannick Ngakoue strip-sacked Roethlisberger and Telvin Smith picked up the loose ball and ran 50 yards for the score and a 28-7 lead. Roethlisberger answered on the next drive with a 36-yard touchdown pass to Martavis Bryant on a 4th-and-11 that cut the margin to 14 at the half.
Jacksonville put 42 points on the board after combining for 20 in its past two weeks.
“It’s been a lack of execution,” said Bortles. “We’ve just kinda been having some mental errors and not really being able to figure things out. It’s hasn’t been schemes or calls or anything like that. We kinda just put it all together today, and guys played their tails off.”
–Field Level Media