What an ugly end to a season that seemed destined for Super Bowl No. 7. If you would have told me before the game that Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offense drops 42 points and more than 500 total yards against the Jacksonville Jaguars’ stout defense, I would have expected a blowout win.
Instead, we’re left stunned at a 45-42 loss at home to the No. 3-seeded Jaguars behind three rushing touchdowns from Leonard Fournette, another defensive touchdown from Telvin Smith and a passing touchdown from Blake Bortles to fullback Tommy Bohanon.
Put simply, the Steelers were out-coached in this game in all facets of the game. Mike Tomlin suffered the worst loss of his era to a team that struggled to put up 10 points and 200 total yards offensively last week in the Wild Card round against the Buffalo Bills.
Heads most likely need to roll, starting with the coordinators. The Keith Butler era has no identity and just had its most embarrassing performance on Sunday, while Todd Haley’s offensive game plan was quite odd without even mentioning the two 4th-and-short scenarios the Steelers blew.
This one really stings. A promising season came crashing down. Let’s try and get through this one.
QB — B-
Look, Roethlisberger was pretty good in this game, even if he was playing from behind the whole game. Roethlisberger put up 469 passing yards and 5 touchdowns, but the plays that will stick out in the minds of fans today and the rest of the off-season is the interception to Myles Jack on the second drive of the game, the strip-sack fumble returned by Smith for a touchdown and the two failed fourth-and-short plays that most feel Roethlisberger should have called a QB sneak for.
I get it, but Roethlisberger wasn’t the reason the Steelers lost today in the fashion they did. He played really well for the most part. It’s just frustrating that it took until the start of the second quarter to get rolling when the Steelers were already in a hole.
RB — A-
Sure, lets talk more about the harmless Le’Veon Bell tweet from Saturday night instead of focusing on the otherworldly performance he put up against the Jaguars.
There was no looking ahead by Bell, who rushed for 67 yards and 1 touchdown on 18 carries, adding 88 receiving yards and a score on 9 catches.
Bell was simply fabulous on Sunday. I’m just not sure what else he was supposed to do to get the credit he deserves from this game. 155 total yards and 2 touchdowns on 27 touches (5.74 yards per touch) is exactly what you wanted from him.
The frustrating part is that it came in a loss.
WR — A-
So much for that calf injury for Antonio Brown, huh?
He sure looked fine to me, hauling in 7 passes for 132 yards and 2 touchdowns, both of which came against AJ Bouye. Both catches were absurd, too. He’s one of the best to ever do it and he showed up in a big way, much like Bell.
Along with Brown, Martavis Bryant hauled in 2 passes for 78 yards and a touchdown, which came on 4th and long late in the first half to pull the Steelers to within 28-14 at halftime.
Eli Rogers got a lot of action in this one, hauling in 5 receptions for 42 yards before exiting with a leg injury, while JuJu Smith-Schuster had his worst game of the season, hauling in just 3 passes for 5 yards and a meaningless touchdown.
For the most part, the Steelers’ receivers won their matchups with the fantastic trio of Jacksonville corners. Unfortunately, it came too little, too late in this one.
TE — A-
That breakout game for Vance McDonald that everyone was calling for finally happened as the oft-injured tight end caught 10 passes for 112 yards, consistently burning the Jags with his route running and run after catch ability.
He was Roethlisberger’s clear go-to guy on Sunday afternoon, aside from Brown. Based off his performance, I’d make sure he’s not a cap casualty this off-season because the Steelers finally appear to have that move tight end they’ve been searching for to work with Roethlisberger.
Jesse James had one catch for 12 yards, splitting two Jags defenders for a first down when it appeared the Steelers were going to pull off the comeback, while Xavier Grimble had a pass go off his hands in the end zone late in the game with the outcome all but decided.
OL — B
Allowing just 2 sacks and 7 quarterback hits against that Jacksonville front seven isn’t that bad, considering how many times Roethlisberger dropped back on the day (58 times).
Additionally, the Steelers’ offensive line paved the way for the Steelers to rush for 4.6 yards per carry on the day against a tough front 7. But again, people will remember the strip-sack by Yannick Ngakoue on Roethlisberger that Smith returned for a score late in the second quarter.
The only other sack the Steelers’ offensive line gave up was to Marcell Dareus, meaning they shut down guys like Dante Fowler, Calais Campbell and Malik Jackson. Not bad.
Just wish they’d have been put in a better situation to convert those two fourth-and-shorts. Maybe we’re talking about a different outcome if that happens.
DL — D-
Following two weeks off and two players dealing with injuries, the Steelers’ defensive line got blown off the ball all game long by an average Jacksonville offensive line, leading to the Jaguars rushing for 164 yards and four touchdowns on the day.
I never once heard Cam Heyward’s name during the game, which is very discouraging from an All-Pro, while both Stephon Tuitt and Javon Hargrave had brief flashes with Tuitt leading the charge up front with 3 tackles, but against a run-heavy team, none of the defensive linemen made enough plays to help out the defense.
LB — D-
Zero pass rush from the Steelers is beyond embarrassing against Bortles and the Jaguars. The Steelers didn’t even lay a hand on him. Both TJ Watt (yes, held a ton all game long) and Bud Dupree couldn’t put much of a pass rush together in big spots, while Sean Spence, LJ Fort and Vince Williams struggled to come downhill against the run.
If there was any doubt about how important Ryan Shazier was to this defense, it was on full display down the stretch, culminating in Sunday’s blowout at home.
Williams led the way with 10 tackles, coming back from concussion protocol to be one the best defenders the Steelers had, but he couldn’t do it alone. Jacksonville did a good job of attacking Spence when he was left on the field in nickel, while Fort missed a key tackle on a third down conversion, but did have a pass breakup.
This was just a disappointing performance from the Steelers’ linebacking corps.
DB — C
Giving up just 14 completions for 214 yards and a touchdown with this secondary should be good enough to win, but alas, it wasn’t.
Artie Burns got beat deep in a key spot by Keelan Cole to set up Fournette’s third touchdown of the game, while Mike Mitchell never once played the ball in the air as the centerfield safety. Both were reportedly inconsolable in the locker room after the game.
Sean Davis was arguably the best defender on the day, along with Williams and Joe Haden, recording 12 stops on the day. He consistently had to play down in the box against the Jags’ run game.
Haden played well in his first playoff game, consistently sticking his face in the fan against the run and even added a pass breakup in the loss.
Special Teams — C-
Yes, the blocked punt was nice, but the decisions to onside kick before the two-minute warning and then to kick deep with one second left was awful and inexcusable.
The decision to push for the last touchdown with time ticking away instead of kicking the field goal and then going for an onside kick was puzzling as well. Fortunately, I don’t think it’s all on Danny Smith because Mike Tomlin makes those calls more often than not.
Jordan Berry and Chris Boswell were mostly good kicking the ball as Boswell drilled all 6 extra points and Berry had two punts for 79 yards.
There’s not much good to come out of this game, so it’s hard to really dive into this game. It was ugly and inexcusable. It stings. The off-season started too soon.