“For me, personally, I’d love to prove that five interceptions wasn’t me in that game.”
Be careful what you wish for, Ben.
During the Steelers’ bye, Ben Roethlisberger gave Jacksonville all the bulletin board material they’ll need this week by saying he wanted another shot at the Jaguars’ defense, eager to prove the five pick debacle in October “wasn’t” him. It totally was him making all of those terrible throws. Like this one:
Roethlisberger was 33-of-55 that game, for 312 yards and five picks. He was also sacked twice and did not throw a touchdown pass. Le’Veon Bell was held to just 47 yards rushing, and the Steelers offense, outside of Antonio Brown’s 10 catches for 157 yards, totaled just 214 yards. The Steelers lost 30-9 at home that day, and many of us (read: me) questioned if Roethlisberger had lost it, physically speaking.
Now the question might be if he lost it mentally, wanting another shot at the Jags’ defense when his other options were Tennessee or Kansas City. While what Ben wants never really mattered, with Jacksonville’s 10-3 win over Buffalo Sunday, he’s getting his wish this coming weekend.
The Jacksonville Jaguars are 6-6 all-time in the playoffs and, after Sunday’s victory, 4-2 in the Wild Card round. As ESPN noted, since Roethlisberger has been in the league, only two teams have had his number in Pittsburgh: New England and Jacksonville. The Steelers are 1-4 in his career at home against the Jags, 0-1 in the playoffs.
This is certainly not the same Jacksonville team Roethlisberger last lost to in the playoffs, as the lone time he faced the Jags in the postseason was 10 years ago. Still, one has to wonder if that 31-29 home loss in a game in which he threw for 337 yards, completing nearly 70 percent of his passes, but tossed three interceptions and lost a late fumble, is weighing on his mind as much as this year’s awful performance in the regular season.
The losses to Jacksonville haven’t all been his fault. Of the five games the ESPN tweet referenced, Roethlisberger didn’t even play in one of them. The loss in one of those games went to Tommy Maddox. Roethlisberger has OK numbers in his career against the Jacksonville defense, completing more than 61.9 percent of his passes while throwing 12 touchdowns and 12 interceptions in eight career games. But, again, five of those interceptions came in one game. And three came in another game…in the playoffs. And two fumbles.
Alright, maybe this isn’t helping.
Here’s what else isn’t helping: The Jags have been great on defense all season. They have two All-Pro cornerbacks and the second-best scoring defense in football. Their pass defense is tops in the NFL this season and while they’re giving up 116.2 yards per game on the ground (21st in the NFL) they allow just 286.1 overall per game, second best in the league.
Against Buffalo, the Jags gave up just 263 yards on 74 plays, an average of 3.6 yards per play. Granted, the Bills offense is hardly on the same level as Pittsburgh’s, but the Jaguars managed to play as good as they have all year on defense, in the wake of one of the worst offensive performances for a winning playoff team in history.
Though speaking of playoff history, the Steelers are 16-9 all-time in the divisional round and 12-2 at home. Since 1972, the Steelers have lost just once at home in the divisional playoff round.
I know what you’re thinking, because I’m thinking it, too. History doesn’t mean a thing this weekend. What does matter, however, is that the Jacksonville defensive line had the second-highest rated defensive line in football this year when it comes to pass rush (the Steelers were tops) while the Steelers boasted the top offensive line in terms of pass protection.
If the o-line can protect Roethlisberger, and he’s able to connect with his bevy of talented skill position players — assuming Antonio Brown is back to form — the Steelers should roll. They’re about a seven point favorite in Vegas, and given how poorly Blake Bortles and the Jags offense played Sunday it’s amazing it’s that close.
There’s only one thing that could keep the Steelers from a rematch against the Patriots in the AFC title game (other than a miraculous Titans victory in Foxboro) and that’s Roethlisberger playing the way he did against the Jags in October.
Since that loss, the Steelers have just one defeat, in the controversial final seconds against the Patriots. In 10 games, Roethlisberger threw 22 touchdown passes and just seven interceptions. He completed no worse than 60 percent of his passes in any game over the second half of our season. He went from being “done” to being an MVP candidate. And he wants another shot at the team that bested him.
There’s something honorable in that. As long as he doesn’t have another game like the last one.