The final score sticks with the Steelers. They haven’t forgotten that the Jacksonville Jaguars handed them their worst loss of the season Oct. 8.
Nor should they.
And you’d better believe they aren’t happy every time it’s mentioned that Jacksonville somehow dominated that game.
The Steelers feel that was anything but the case, with the exception being on the scoreboard: 30-9.
“If you watch that football game, it’s not like their offense exploited us a ton,” said Steelers safety Mike Mitchell. “I don’t think it was a dominant performance from that standpoint. I thought we played well enough to win the game. We didn’t. We’ve got to do better Sunday as a complete team to win the game.”
Jacksonville rushed for 231 yards in that game, with running back Leonard Fournette going for 181 on 28 carries. But 90 of those yards came on his final attempt with the Steelers selling out on a third-and-2 play in one last-ditch effort to get the ball back for the offense.
Prior to that run, Fournette was averaging 3.4 yards per carry.
Their quarterback, Blake Bortles, dropped back to pass twice in the second half. One pass attempt resulted in an incompletion. The other was a sack for minus-3 yards. Yet the Jaguars scored 23 second-half points.
That’s where Ben Roethlisberger comes into play.
Roethlisberger suffered through a five-interception game in that meeting. Two of those were returned for touchdowns, turning a 9-7 Pittsburgh lead midway through the third quarter into a 20-9 deficit.
After the game, he sarcastically said, “Maybe I just don’t have it anymore.”
Some in the national media took that to mean Roethlisberger was questioning himself. He wasn’t. He was answering the question he thought his critics were going to ask.
As it turns out, Roethlisberger does still have it. In the 10 games he started after that loss, he averaged 298 yards with 20 touchdown passes and seven interceptions.
That’s hardly the stuff of a quarterback who can no longer play.
Roethlisberger said last week this was the matchup he wanted today at Heinz Field because he wanted to atone for the five-interception game.
It wouldn’t seem like a good idea for a quarterback to want to face the NFL’s top-rated pass defense or one that finished second to the Steelers with 55 sacks. That’s especially true when that defense picked him off five times in the previous meeting.
“Be careful what you wish for,” Jacksonville cornerback A.J. Bouye told reporters this week. “This is what he wanted, so this is what he is going to get.
“We remember. We know they are going to be motivated. Everybody thinks we’re not going to do it again. We know what we’re capable of. We’re looking forward to it.”
So, there you go. Both teams want this matchup. And they got it.
Now, what will they do with it?
With a trip to the AFC Championship game on the line, it’s not like either team needed extra motivation.
What will be the difference this time around? Roethlisberger not throwing five interceptions would be a good place for the Steelers to start.
And since that was a career-high for the future Hall of Fame quarterback, it’s highly unlikely that happens again.
To make sure it doesn’t, the Steelers will have to lean on their high-priced offensive line.
The Steelers have spent plenty of high draft picks and a large amount of money on their offensive line, which includes three Pro Bowl players in guard David DeCastro, center Maurkice Pouncey and left tackle Alejandro Villanueva.
They’re paying that group $39.8 million this season.
Of course, that pales in comparison to the $50.7 million the Jaguars have tied up in their top five defensive linemen, including more than $17 million for AFC sack leader Calais Campbell.
Could it be this game will come down to which high-paid unit plays better?
“It really is that simple,” Steelers guard Ramon Foster said.
“They’re the epitome of the best in the league. Heck, their whole defense is the epitome of excellence in the league. They’re that good. I’ll give them a crown.”
Crowns are nice. Rings are better. And that’s what the Steelers have their eyes on, winning a Super Bowl ring.
They’re not about to back down from this next challenge along the way.
Given how poorly Bortles has played in recent weeks – he threw for just 85 yards in last week’s win against Buffalo – there’s no reason to believe the Steelers won’t exact their revenge for their earlier loss.
Roethlisberger won’t throw five interceptions again. Le’Veon Bell won’t get just 14 carries.
Jacksonville won’t rush for 231 yards.
And the Steelers will win.
It won’t be easy, not against this defense. But the Steelers are the better team and should come out of this with a 23-13 victory.