By Daniel Benjamin
The Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2017 season came to an abrupt end with a 45-42 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars in the divisional round of the AFC playoffs at Heinz Field.
The Steelers dug themselves a 14-0 first-quarter hole and couldn’t really overcome the deficit, no matter how hard they fought. Mistakes and the defense’s inability to stop the Jaguars offense were key components in the loss.
Pittsburgh finishes the season with a 13-4 record.
Roethlisberger had a historic afternoon, setting franchise playoff records with 58 attempts, 469 yards, and five touchdown passes. He also made some big-time plays late in the contest, but he can’t escape some of the blame for his team’s loss. It was his two turnovers, an interception, and fumble, that allowed the Jags to get 14 points off of turnovers.
Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell also had big games. Brown finished with seven receptions for 132 yards and two touchdowns as he consistently beat corner A.J. Bouye. The first came when he got into Bouye and caught a 23-yard touchdown on a corner route and on the second touchdown, he got inside Bouye and kept them on his backside as Roethlisberger delivered a 43-yard strike. Overall, Brown caught a pass against four different defenders and racked up over 20 yards after the catch.
Bell totaled 155 yards from scrimmage, marking the ninth time he has accumulated 100 scrimmage yards. He tallied 67 yards coming on 16 carries and 88 yards on 9 catches. His eight-yard touchdown run was spectacular as he took a backward lateral from Roethlisberger to the house late in the game.
Tight end Vance McDonald also had a huge game, hauling in a career-high 10 passes for 112 yards.
The 45-points that the Steelers surrendered is tied for the most in the franchise’s playoff history. Pittsburgh did hold the Jaguars under 400 yards of total offense. The Steelers’ multitude of mistakes didn’t help the defense, but their big problem was their inability to get off the field. They permitted the Jags to go 9-of-15 on their final offensive snap of the drive and were 5-for-5 in scoring touchdowns in the red zone.
The Steelers defense did an average job against the pass, though they were sub-par against the run, and the defense also didn’t record a sack or force a turnover.
Safety Sean Davis did a fantastic job helping stop the run. Davis recorded a team-high 12 tackles with nine being of the solo variety. Cornerback Joe Haden also had an excellent game, allowing no catches while also breaking up a pass.
Special teams C-
Chris Boswell was as steady as ever, making all six of his extra point attempts. Boswell wasn’t as precise on his kickoffs, as only three of his seven kickoffs were for touchbacks. Plus, his onside kick late in the game was horrendous.
Punter Jordan Berry was a non-factor though he messed up a pouch punt opportunity and had the ball end up in the end zone.
Reserve safety Robert Golden came up with the biggest specials team play early in the fourth quarter. Golden got a piece of a Josh Lambo punt and the kick ended up travelling 15 yards, giving the Steelers’ possession at the Jaguars 48-yard line.
The Steelers coaching staff was thoroughly out-coached throughout the day. The team came out flat and they didn’t make the necessary adjustments.
Mike Tomlin and offensive coordinator Todd Haley made several mistakes. While the decision to go for it on fourth and 1 from the Jags’ 21 was correct, as they were down 14-0, the play call was not. Instead of running straight ahead, the Steelers ran a sweep to the right and Bell was dropped four a four-yard loss. To make matters worse, right tackle Marcus Gilbert was injured on the play.
In all, the Steelers were 4-for-6 on fourth down, which included two touchdowns. Both of those touchdowns were on fourth and 1 and the conversions came on big plays. That does not mean that the play calls were correct.
The Jaguars converted both of the Steelers’ failed fourth down attempts into touchdowns. After denying Brown, the Jaguars marched 75-yards on 11 plays. Jacksonville then went 61-yards on five plays following Rothlisberger’s inability to connect with Juju Smith-Schuster on a deep pass on fourth and 1 from the Jags’ 39-yard line.
Defensively, coordinator Keith Butler did not make any adjustments. The Steelers remained in zone coverage on several third and longs and got burned. The Steelers, the league-leaders in sacks, did not record a sack and allowed the Jaguars to convert 8-of-14 third-down opportunities as well as a late fourth-down play that ended with fullback Tommy Bohannon in the end zone with the ball.
Perhaps the biggest coaching gaffe was with 2:14 left in the game when, immediately following Bell’s touchdown to cut the deficit to 42-35, Tomlin chose to attempt an onside kick despite having two timeouts left and the two-minute warning.
The kick failed as Boswell’s kick bounced up and hit special teams ace Tyler Matakevich for illegal touching. The Jags turned the mistake into three points, which gave them a 10-point lead (45-35).