NFL Jaguars outlast Steelers to book playoff date with Patriots
Jacksonville rookie Leonard Fournette ran for 109 yards and three touchdowns Sunday, powering the Jaguars over the Pittsburgh Steelers 45-42 and within another victory of their first Super Bowl.
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger completed 37-of-58 passes for a post-season Pittsburgh record 469 yards and five touchdowns but it was not enough for the hosts to advance in the NFL playoffs.
Jacksonville moved into the American Conference final next Sunday at defending champion New England, where the winner will advance to next month's Super Bowl.
It's the third trip for the Jaguars so near the NFL championship spectacle, having lost to Tennessee in 2000 and at New England in 1997 in prior conference finals.
The New Orleans Saints were set to face host Minnesota later Sunday to determine which club would travel to Philadelphia for next Sunday's National Conference final.
A blocked punt by Pittsburgh's Robert Golden set up the Steelers for their first drive of the fourth quarter in Jaguars' territory, but the hosts turned over the ball on downs and Jacksonville made them pay.
Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles hit Keelan Cole with a 45-yard pass to set up Fournette's third touchdown run, a 3-yard trot up the middle, that gave Jacksonville a 35-21 edge with 10:34 remaining.
The Steelers took an all-or-nothing gamble on fourth down and Roethlisberger responded with his fourth touchdown pass, connecting with Antonio Brown on a 43-yard scoring strike to pull Pittsburgh within 35-28.
Bortles answered with a 14-yard touchdown pass to Tommy Bohanon to complete a 75-yard march and give Jacksonville a 42-28 lead with 4:19 remaining.
Roethlisberger wasn't credited with a scoring toss but his lateral to Le'Veon Bell allowed the rusher to run eight yards for a touchdown that pulled the Steelers within 42-35 with 2:18 remaining.
Pittsburgh decided to attempt an onside kick to keep possession of the ball, but the Jaguars recovered and Josh Lambo kicked a 45-yard field goal with 1:45 remaining.
The Steelers drove downfield again but used too much time, Roethlisberger's 4-yard touchdown toss to JuJu Smith-Schuster too little and too late.
Jacksonville scored on the opening drive, Fournette diving one yard for a touchdown to cap an eight-play, 66-yard march.
Roethlisberger, who threw a career-high five interceptions against the Jaguars' top-rated pass defenders in a 30-9 regular-season rout last October, tossed another Sunday to Jacksonville's Myles Jack.
On the next play, Fournette ran 18 yards around the right side into the front corner of the end zone and the Jaguars led 14-0.
Jacksonville's T.J. Yeldon scored on a four-yard touchdown run 3:29 into the second quarter and the Jaguars surged ahead 21-0 as stunned Steelers fans shivered silently in the cold.
Roethlisberger answered with a 23-yard touchdown pass to Brown to get the Steelers on the scoreboard.
But "Big Ben" lost a fumble caused by Jacksonville's Yannick Ngakoue and the Jaguars' Telvin Smith recovered and returned the ball 50 yards for a touchdown.
Roethlisberger responded with a 36-yard touchdown pass to Martavis Bryant with 25 seconds remaining in the second quarter to pull the Steelers within 28-14 at half-time.
After the second-half kickoff, the Steelers marched 77 yards in 10 plays with Roethlisberger flipping a 19-yard touchdown pass to Le'Veon Bell to lift Pittsburgh within 28-21 just 5:51 into the third quarter.
© 2018 AFP