T.J. Yeldon

Jaguars stun Steelers 45-42 to earn trip to AFC title game

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PITTSBURGH (AP) The Jacksonville Jaguars, yes those Jacksonville Jaguars, are heading to the AFC championship game.

Rookie running back Leonard Fournette ran for 109 yards and three touchdowns, Blake Bortles added 214 yards passing and a vital fourth-quarter score as the relentless Jaguars stunned the Pittsburgh Steelers 45-42 on Sunday.

The third-seeded Jaguars (12-6) will face top-seeded New England next week in Foxborough, Massachusetts after jumping on Pittsburgh early, then holding on late. Jacksonville raced to a 21-point lead, fended off a Steelers rally and responded every time Pittsburgh (13-4) challenged.

Ben Roethlisberger threw for 469 yards and set a franchise record with five touchdown passes, but was also intercepted once and had a fumble returned for a score. All-Pro Antonio Brown caught seven passes for 132 yards and two touchdowns in his return from a left calf injury. Le'Veon Bell had 155 yards of total offense and two scores.

Road to Super Bowl LII: Stream, start time, highlights and more

But Pittsburgh’s vaunted “Killer Bs” couldn’t keep pace with Jacksonville, one of four NFL franchises to never make the Super Bowl.

The Jaguars dominated the Steelers back in October, winning by three touchdowns in a performance so overwhelming Roethlisberger only half-jokingly wondered aloud whether he still had “it’ after throwing a career-high five picks.

Roethlisberger and his teammates left little doubt they hoped for a rematch, one that came to fruition after Jacksonville outlasted Buffalo in an ugly wild-card victory; the Jaguars survived in spite of an 87-yard passing performance by Bortles.

Jacksonville cornerback A.J. Bouye cautioned Pittsburgh to be careful what it wished for, and the Jaguars hardly appeared intimidated by the 18-degree chill or trying to earn their first road playoff win in a decade.

Fournette’s ever-churning legs set the tone early. He soared for a 1-yard touchdown run on fourth down on Jacksonville’s first possession. e sprinted for an 18-yard score on the first play following a Roethlisberger pick, and bulled over from 3 yards in the fourth quarter after the Steelers cut the lead to a touchdown.

Bortles has found himself a touchstone during Jacksonville’s resurgence following a decade of losing, even allowing last week that he’ll never be able to silence all of his critics no matter what.

Might be time to test that theory.

While he wasn’t flawless, he also wasn’t afraid. Having the burly Fournette certainly helped, but Bortles also never hesitated – the Steelers led the NFL with a franchise-record 55 sacks but never once got to Bortles. If he wasn’t scrambling for extra yardage he was using play-action or deftly executed screen passes. His 45-yard completion in the fourth quarter set up Fournette’s final score, and his 14-yard flip to Tommy Bohannon with 4:19 left vaulted the Jaguars to the NFL’s final four for only third time in team history.

The Jaguars did it on a day the NFL’s top-ranked defense hardly looked like it. Though Jacksonville forced a pair of first-half turnovers, including Roethlisberger’s fumble that Telvin Smith returned 48 yards for a score and a 28-7 lead, Pittsburgh rolled up 545 yards.

Still, it’s 2 yards the Steelers didn’t get that helped send them into an offseason filled with questions.

Twice Pittsburgh had fourth-and-1 in Jacksonville territory. Twice it did something other than have the 6-foot-5 Roethlisberger sneak. The Steelers ran wide in the first quarter and Bell was stuffed for a 4-yard loss. The Jaguars responded immediately by going 75 yards in 11 plays, the final one a 4-yard sprint by T.J. Yeldon that put them up 21-0.

The Steelers were down a touchdown early in the fourth quarter and had fourth-and-inches at the Jacksonville 39. Roethlisberger checked at the line of scrimmage, faked a handoff to Bell and instead threw incomplete to diving rookie JuJu Smith-Schuster.

UP NEXT

The Jaguars travel to New England, where they were beaten in the 1996 AFC title game.

The Steelers, despite tying for the league’s best record, head home.

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Dalton, Bengals have ‘good outing’ in loss at Jags (VIDEO)

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) The Cincinnati Bengals were so sharp against Jacksonville that Andy Dalton and several teammates were done long before halftime.

Dalton led the Bengals to two touchdowns in three possessions, earning him a little extra rest in a 26-21 loss to the Jaguars in the preseason Sunday night.

“It was a good outing for us,” said Dalton, who completed 6 of 10 passes for 77 yards and a TD. “Two touchdowns in the first half of a preseason game is pretty good, and we got them both ways. … It’s a good feeling to do it both ways.”

The Bengals (1-2) felt good on both sides of the ball, too. Dalton found Giovani Bernard for a 19-yard score on a third-down play, and then Jeremy Hill capped a 9-minute drive with a 1-yard scramble to the pylon. Defensively, the Bengals held Jacksonville to just 90 yards in the first half. Jacksonville’s first three drives: turnover, three-and-out and three-and-out.

Cincy’s only concern in the regular-season dress rehearsal was the health of three Pro Bowlers.

Receiver A.J. Green left in the first quarter with a bruised right knee, but said he’s fine. Cornerback Adam Jones strained his right calf in preseason warmups and did not play. And special teams ace Cedric Peerman broke his left forearm and could be out for the season.

“It’s unfortunate guys have injuries, but you can’t worry about that,” Dalton said. “You’ve got to worry just about the stuff you can control.”

Safety Tashaun Gipson (bruised knee) was Jacksonville’s only injured starter.

The Jaguars (1-2) had bigger problems – the offense and defense both failed to show – that raised questions about what’s supposed to the franchise’s most talented team in nearly a decade.

T.J. Yeldon fumbled on the opening possession. Center Brandon Linder and quarterback Blake Bortles each were flagged for false starts to open drives. And the left side of Jacksonville’s revamped offensive line was mostly manhandled.

“We kind of killed ourselves. We did some stupid things, really, at every position,” Bortles said. “They didn’t do necessarily anything to stop up, which is a good sign because it’s a good defense. … We were comfortable and confident in what we were doing. We just didn’t execute it and get things done.”

DEBUTS

Bengals: WR Brandon LaFell caught one pass in his Bengals debut. Signed in free agency to help replace Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu, LaFell also drew a pass-interference penalty that set up a score.

Jaguars: Playing his first game since tearing a knee ligament last October, LT Kelvin Beachum looked rusty. And Luke Joeckel, the second overall pick in the 2013 draft, looked lost at times at LG.

ROOKIE WATCH

Bengals: WR Alex Erickson scored for the third straight game, stating his case to make the team. Erickson caught a 21-yard TD pass from AJ McCarron early in the third quarter. It was his second TD catch of the preseason. He also returned a punt for a touchdown.

Jaguars: DE Yannick Ngakoue got the start ahead of Dante Fowler Jr., but only because the Jaguars wanted to see Ngakoue get some snaps with the first-team defense. Ngakoue finished with two tackles.

POSITION BATTLES

Bengals: Second-round pick WR Tyler Boyd, vying to start opposite Green, had a 9-yard reception.

Jaguars: Fourth-year RB Joe Banyard ran 11 times for 54 yards, including a 7-yard TD run in the third quarter, and had his most extensive work of the preseason. Banyard and Corey Grant are competing to be the fourth-string back.

INJURY UPDATE

Bengals: LB Vontaze Burfict and TE Tyler Eifert were among a dozen players ruled out before the game.

Jaguars: Eight players were ruled out beforehand, including DT Roy Miller, rookie DT Sheldon Day and FS Peyton Thompson.

QUOTABLE

Bengals: “I do feel faster this year because I feel healthier.” – Hill.

Jaguars: “We played bad at every position and usually that is what happens when you play bad: you do not score a lot of points.” – Bortles.

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