The Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2017 season ended not only prematurely, but also bitterly, suffering an early postseason exit after falling to the Jacksonville Jaguars at home in the Divisional Round by a score of 45-42. The wounds are still fresh, but it’s time to relive the 2017 season that was, starting from the beginning.
Chapter XXI – Steelers Get Humbled, Dominated In Early Playoff Exit
This is the end of the road, and the chapter that I somewhat dreaded writing about. Truth be told, I have struggled to revisit this game since it happened, as it was just too ugly. You might have noticed that I abstained from much of my usual post-game coverage after this one, including film studies of various performances from the game. It just didn’t seem desirable, or desired. It was just time to move on.
That is just what the Steelers must do after the Jacksonville Jaguars came into their house twice during the 2017 season and served them a dose of humble pie. Combining both games, it would be hard to argue that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s turnovers were not the biggest factor. After all, they directly generated three touchdowns.
There has been both internal and external debate over the course of the year whether or not the Steelers deal with rust coming off of bye weeks. If you believe they do, you will certainly read this game as proof positive of that, as they jumped out to an early 21-0 deficit.
Pittsburgh simply did not look like itself. Normally a relatively physical team, instead that were outmuscled in the trenches throughout the afternoon, both their offensive and defensive lines, in what was a clear outlier performance.
Offensively, it was not necessarily a huge issue outside of the strip sack by Pro Bowler Yannick Ngakoue, which was returned for a touchdown by Pro Bowler Telvin Smith. But the dominance of the front seven allowed the Jaguars and running back Leonard Fournette to control both to tempo and tenor of the game.
The rookie running back rushed for 109 yards on 25 carries with three rushing touchdowns. T.J. Yeldon added another rushing touchdown as Blake Bortles served a complementary role in the offense, attempting only 26 passes, many of which were built off the running game with the usage of play action.
While the pass rush was certainly lacking, the Jaguars also did an excellent job of neutralizing it by forcing them to respect the run and then using play action to exploit it while also avoiding too many obvious passing situations.
While the Steelers’ stars offensively dominated—Roethlisberger threw for over 450 yards and five touchdowns, Le’Veon Bell had over 150 yards from scrimmage and two scores, Antonio Brown returning from injury had 132 receiving yards and two scores—it wouldn’t be enough when they gave up 45 points.
The Steelers scored 28 points in the second half, but the Jaguars kept their foot on the gas and added 17 alone in the fourth quarter. It was an unpredictable offensive slugfest-vs-shootout between the two teams, even as Pittsburgh’s offense often made Jacksonville’s impressive defense look anything but.
But the end result was the Steelers staying in Pittsburgh, spoiling their bye week and failing to win a playoff game following a very strong season. It was an awful and humbling way to end the year, and from that has stemmed quite a bit of grief that will have repercussions all offseason, and perhaps beyond that.