Steelers primed for rematch with Jaguars
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Jacksonville Jaguars don't have near the playoff experience as the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Jacksonville, though, has winning experience at Heinz Field.
The champions of the AFC South (Jaguars) and AFC North (Steelers) will meet Sunday in the divisional round with the winner advancing to the AFC Championship Game against Tennessee or New England on Jan. 21.
Jacksonville trounced Pittsburgh 30-9 on Oct. 8 at Heinz Field, forcing Steelers two-time Super Bowl winning quarterback Ben Roethlisberger into a career-worst five interceptions.
The Steelers (13-3) went on to win 10 of their last 11 games to secure the AFC's second seed and first-round bye.
"We've evolved since then," Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin said. "They have evolved a lot since then. (The first game) is a good physical reference in terms of the matchups. ... I am sure that they are as different as we are since the last time we've seen them."
The Jaguars are hoping that the evolution has been minimal, especially the passing game. Roethlisberger said last week he was hoping the Steelers would get to play the Jaguars.
Jacksonville All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey helped grant his wish with his interception in the final seconds to seal Jacksonville's 10-3 victory over Buffalo in the wild-card round Sunday at EverBank Field. The win was Jacksonville's first in the playoffs since the 2007 season, its last appearance.
The Jaguars (11-6) returned two Roethlisberger interceptions for touchdowns in the first meeting.
The 35-year-old Roethlisberger wondered "if he still has it" after the loss when meeting with reporters.
Ramsey said with the Bills game behind them, Big Ben's comments about wanting a rematch have their attention.
"I'm sure it will be brought up a couple times this week," Ramsey said. "I would want to play us again too. He threw five picks and was contemplating retirement saying whether he had it or not after playing us. They had a good season after our game. But, sometimes you have to be careful what you ask for. We'll see Big Ben and the Steelers on Sunday. We'll see what happens then."
Ramsey intercepted a pass in the Pittsburgh win and deflected four passes. One breakup resulted in strong safety Barry Church intercepting a pass and returning it 51 yards for a touchdown.
Roethlisberger was quick to praise the Jaguars' defense this week.
"This is one of the best defenses I've ever played against," Roethlisberger said.
The Steelers finished the season ranked third in the NFL in passing yardage, with the Jaguars first in pass defense.
"They play to our strengths," Ramsey said. "They think that passing is their strength. Defending the pass is our strength. Any team that tries to pass the ball on us 40 times hasn't had success on us and I don't think will have success on us. We have to grind this week though. They're a good team coming off the bye. We're going to have to have a great game plan and execute."
Ramsey will be in the headlining matchup Sunday as he goes up against Steelers All-Pro receiver Antonio Brown, who caught 10 passes for 157 yards on 19 targets in the first meeting.
Brown injured his calf on Dec. 17, but is expected to play Sunday. The eighth-year veteran led the NFL in receiving yards this season with 1,533 (89 more than No. 2 Julio Jones), despite missing the final two games of the season.
Pittsburgh will also try to lean more on All-Pro running back Le'Veon Bell, who was held to 93 total yards in the first meeting.
"He's not one-dimensional," Jaguars coach Doug Marrone said. "It's not like this guy is going to take the ball and run downhill and run you over every single time he takes it. He can do that. He can also get the ball outside. He has excellent patience. He has a really good understanding of the blocking scheme. He's a natural catcher."
The big question is how much will Pittsburgh really need to score? Jacksonville's offense has been sluggish lately, scoring 20 total points in its last two outings combined.
Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles wasn't effective in the first meeting. He completed 8-of-14 passes for 95 yards with no touchdowns and an interception for a 48.2 passer rating.
The Jaguars' top-ranked run offense had one of its best days of the season, generating 231 yards. Rookie running back Leonard Fournette carried 28 times for 181 yards and two touchdowns, including a game-clinching 90-yard score.
"Hopefully, we can throw less," Bortles said. "That would be awesome. Leonard goes off again and those guys up front play as well as they did last time, we can run the ball up there and not have to throw at all. It was something that happened last time, but you never know."
Updated January 10, 2018