O-Zone Late Night: Jaguars 45, Steelers 42
PITTSBURGH, Pa. – This was unreal, logic-defying and really, really big.
Those are only a few of the ways to describe the Jaguars' 45-42 victory in an AFC Divisional Playoff at Heinz Field Sunday, but descriptions weren't really necessary.
The Jaguars are playing in the AFC Championship Game.
That's right, Duval: Let that sink in for a while.
The Jaguars are playing in the AFC Championship Game. That's worth writing a second time because it's the first time the sentence has been written in 18 years – and the fact that it can be written trumps all other analysis from what was a weird, wild, frigid day.
There is so much to digest from this game, and there will time in the coming days and hours to do the digesting, but know this: the Jaguars earned this one in a big way – and as linebacker Telvin Smith quickly pointed out in a raucous Jaguars locker room, this was a team victory.
We'll take a moment here to acknowledge quarterback Blake Bortles, who was typically humble in a post-game press conference when asked if this finally would be the performance that silenced his critics. He said he didn't really care about such things and if you've followed him at all, you know he's probably telling the truth.
This team is gutsy. It's resilient. It defied the hell out of the odds Sunday, as it pretty much has all season. Yes, it heard the comments from the Steelers all week and it saw Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell's Tweet on Sunday about playing New England in the AFC Championship Game – and all of it mattered even to those players who tried to say who didn't.
Actually, those aren't the biggest takeaways. The biggest takeaway is the Jaguars are going to the AFC Championship Game. For real.
Let's get to it …
Steve from Queenstown, MD:
I am leaving Heinz Field and the city of Pittsburgh. All I have to say is WOW and GO JAGS! AFC championship: is this a dream?
John: No, it's absolutely not a dream. It's dream-like and unreal for the fans, but that was a huge takeaway in the post-game locker room. Jaguars players weren't surprised by this. I asked safety Barry Church if this was an upset and he said, No, not to the players. The Jaguars beat the Steelers by 21 points in October. Many people seemed to think that was a fluke this week. The Jaguars didn't think that. They proved themselves right on Sunday.
Renee from Duval:
John! I'm nauseous ... Defense has to keep them out of the end zone I BELIEVE! GO JAGS!,!
John: Fourth-quarter email – and yes, it got tight. It got hard. It's supposed to be tight and hard. It's the playoffs. It's the road. It matters. The Jaguars did it. It felt good, right?
Andrew from Mattoon, IL:
I don't care how this season ends ... this is so much fun!
John: This was the much-anticipated, much-ballyhooed, often-heroic First Email of the Game. It reflected the euphoria of the moment as the Jaguars took an early 21-point lead. I wondered how many people would feel that way if the euphoria ended. Fortunately, we didn't have to find out.
Logan from Wichita, KS:
Telvin's penalty ended any chance we had of winning.
John: Yes except no.
Travis from Wellington, FL:
Wow, just wow. Blake may have just turned the corner. What a great display of command and control in the 4th quarter.
John: I don't know about turning the corner. I need more time to digest what happened Sunday to know what it means for the long term for Blake Bortles. I do know he's playing next Sunday and 28 other starting quarterbacks aren't playing. I also know he was a big reason the Jaguars won Sunday and I know if you don't see that you weren't paying attention.
Michael from Middleburg, FL:
What's all the professional pundits have to say about Bortles now?
John: Different things than last week.
Shawn from the Mean Streets of Arlington:
Who da thunk it?
John: The Jaguars, but few others to be honest – and that's something this team and its fans should savor. It's Duval versus ya'll and that's a real thing. You only get to experience shocking the world a few times as a group. This group and its fans got to experience it Sunday.
JT from Rosamond, CA:
When we needed our offense the most, they produced to clock-eating, touchdown scoring drive. Cheers to the offense!!!!
Jeremy from Wise, VA:
I hate the stupid penalties. Unsportsmanlike conduct is easy to avoid. That penalty proved to be costly.
John: This was in reference to Jaguars linebacker Telvin Smith drawing a taunting penalty on his 50-yard fumble return for a touchdown at the end of the first half. You're right. It was unnecessary. With this team, you sometimes take the good of the swagger with the bad of the swagger. That turned out to be both, because the penalty helped set up the Steelers' touchdown at the end of the first half. It didn't cost the Jaguars the game, but it was dicey for a while there in the fourth quarter.
Renee from Duval:
John … this is stuff legends are made of … GO JAGS!!!