I wrote prior to yesterday’s game that the Pittsburgh Steelers’ free agent additions of cornerback Joe Haden and defensive end Tyson Alualu saw their former teams take widely divergent paths since joining together in the leading team of the AFC North.
The two teams who had likely the worst records in the league during the seven-year tenure of each cast off their former 2010 first-round draft picks. Haden saw his Cleveland Browns hit an all-time low, going 0-16. But Alualu’s Jacksonville Jaguars, after missing the postseason for a decade, are now returning to the AFC Championship game for the first time since 1999.
And they went through his new team to get there. Jacksonville has now won two postseason games, while Alualu still does not know the feeling of winning in the playoffs. It’s a bitter twist of fate that he comes to Pittsburgh to win playoff games and sees his former team prevent him from doing so.
Jacksonville has undergone a number of regime changes during the past seven years, even seeing ownership change hands, and Alualu was lost in the shuffle. He even spent two games last season as a healthy scratch, realizing that his time there as a key contributor was done.
He contributed positive to the Steelers in 2017, registering a career high in four sacks, and was very efficient in recording tackles against the run relative to the number of snaps that he played. He was certainly more valuable the Pittsburgh, especially given the injuries to Stephon Tuitt, than he would have been to the Jaguars.
And all of that coalesced into yesterday’s game, which he wanted badly. “With how everything played out”, he told Chris Adamski, “I probably wanted this win more than anything, with it being the Jags”. So, at least that is one player who was not looking ahead to the New England Patriots.
Still, he did add that, now that the Steelers have been eliminated, he is pulling for his former team to go all the way, something that they never even came close to doing while he was on the roster. They only won 22 games during his first seven seasons and never had a winning record.
The Jaguars have undergone a substantial defensive transformation in recent years, and the free agent acquisition of Calais Campbell was perhaps the final piece of the puzzle. He led the AFC in sacks with 14.5 and was a first-team All-Pro this year.
At the back end, they have a starting secondary in which everybody picked off at least four passes during the regular season. The Steelers did not have any one player intercept four passes during the year, although they had two intercept three apiece.