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View from the O-Zone: “This is the New Jags”

Posted Jan 12, 2018

Oehser: The storylines bubbling to the surface between the young Jaguars and established Steelers promise to make Sunday’s AFC Divisional Playoff in Pittsburgh a whole lot of fun


JACKSONVILLE – This is going to be fun.

That’s not to say the Jaguars are absolutely going to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers in their AFC Divisional Playoff at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Sunday. There are no absolutes in the NFL’s postseason, and there’s that part about the Steelers being really good.

But if you want drama …

If you want high stakes …

And if you want compelling, memorable storylines …

Yeah, this one has all of those things – with a touch of good-old-fashioned chippy thrown in, too. Asked this week about recent comments by Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger wanting to play the Jaguars in the postseason, Jaguars All-Pro linebacker Telvin Smith smiled and said of course Big Ben would have something to prove after throwing five interceptions against the Jaguars in October.

Smith then added: “We do, too.”

Smith smiled as he said it. And while neither Smith nor his teammates did much chest-thumping or trash-talking during media availability this week, the thought here is Smith’s smile said what his words didn’t:

These Jaguars are going to be ready Sunday. And they’re sure not going to Pittsburgh seeing themselves as any sort of underdog.

A young, ascending team …

A team good enough to win …

A team that believes in itself – with every reason to do so …

The Jaguars are those things and more – and perhaps the most important thing when it comes to going into one of the NFL’s toughest venues is this:

They’re not going there to lose. Far from it. And that only adds to the fun.

Now, here’s what you may be saying at this point:

Of course Sunday will be fun. It’s the postseason.

That’s true, but what’s also true is there are different levels of postseason fun. Playing a less traditional team would be important, but might not have the pop as playing a more traditional team. And it doesn’t get much more traditional than the Steelers, does it?

Indeed, the scene Sunday will be about as old-school NFL as it gets. A sea of yellow and black. Gray, low-hanging skies. A frozen field. Heinz Field. This is big-time NFL playoff atmosphere.

It’s actually big-time enough that it might intimidate a different team, but the guess here intimidation won’t be a thing Sunday.

First, the Jaguars aren’t exactly wowed by playing at Heinz Field. They are 4-1 there since 2005, 3-1 there against Roethlisberger. They won twice there in 2007 – once in the regular season and once in the postseason – and are the only team to win in Pittsburgh twice in the same season. This is not the Jaguars’ House of Horrors.

Even if that wasn’t the history, this Jaguars team isn’t the sort to be worried about what once was.

It’s sure not the sort, either, to care much about what is supposed to be a major home-field advantage for the Steelers. They’re young, brash, arrogant and all of the good and not-so-good things that description implies. They have played with a chip on their collective shoulder all season, which has resulted sometimes in silly penalties and needless post-play altercations but which also has contributed in a major way to the swagger that has them one of eight professional football teams still playing.

That quote from cornerback A.J. Bouye earlier this week? When he responded to Roethlisberger saying he wanted to play the Jaguars by saying, “Be careful what you wish for?” Call that a tone-setter.

“You know that saying, ‘Act like you’ve been there?’ You would think we’ve been here,’’ veteran tight end Marcedes Lewis said Thursday during an appearance on O-Zone Live. “This is the new Jags. With every rep, with every game we play, everybody’s gaining more and more confidence.

“Confidence won’t be an issue Sunday.”

No, this team won’t leave its swagger at home just because the charter is Steeltown bound. Yes, this will be an entertaining one. This matchup is cool. There’s Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette versus Steelers safety Mike Mitchell less than three months after Fournette’s “wave” to Mitchell in October went viral and defined the Jaguars’ new-found swagger.

There’s Roethlisberger’s publicly-stated desire to prove the five-interception in October “wasn’t me.”

There’s the upstart versus the establishment.

And of course, there’s Duval versus Black and Yellow – and the ever present “Duval versus All Y’all…”

That’s good stuff, fun stuff – and it’s bubbling under the surface waiting to erupt. Roethlisberger wanting revenge. Bouye, Smith and the entire Jaguars defense wanting to show Big Ben revenge ain’t happening on their watch. The Steelers defense wanting to show Fournette there will be no waving this time.

Mostly what’s at stake is a spot in the AFC Championship Game, which means this will be historical and memorable and the biggest game the Jaguars have played in a long, long time.

And mostly, this will be a lot of fun.

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