Round 2 will have to wait for the 2018 regular season.
One day after Le'Veon Bell tweeted his guarantee that the Steelers would have the opportunity for revenge on the Patriots in the AFC title game, his team was promptly beaten at home by the Jaguars for the second time this season, 45-42.
That means that Jacksonville and the top-ranked defense in the AFC will travel to Foxboro next weekend for a shot to represent the conference in Super Bowl LII.
We have some initial thoughts on that matchup, but first . . . what in the name of beard spittle happened to Mike Tomlin and the Steelers?
WHY THE STEELERS PLAN WAS FLAWED FROM THE START
The Jaguars pass defense is arguably the best in the league. They field a lineup loaded with All-Pros (Calais Campbell, Jalen Ramsey) and Pro Bowlers (Campbell, Ramsey, AJ Bouye, Malik Jackson), and yet it looked as though the Steelers hadn't studied them on tape. Nor had they learned from their previous meeting with the Jags, when Bell had just 15 carries, they leaned on their passing game, and Ben Roethlisberger threw five picks. On their opening drive, instead of attacking Jacksonville's 21st-ranked run defense (which, in fairness, has improved late this season with the addition of Marcel Dareus), they lined up in shotgun. Empty. And chucked it. The result? A three-and-out. Later in the first quarter Roethlisberger was picked deep in his own territory, which led to another quick score. Eventually the Steelers figured out that Bell should see more touches, especially in the passing game since the Jaguars have been generous to pass-catching backs of late. But by the time they'd ironed out their strategy, they were down 21-0. They never recovered. Defensively, the Steelers had to make sure they didn't allow the Jaguars running game to beat them. What happened? Jacksonville averaged seven yards per carry into the second quarter as they built their three-score lead. Mind-boggling. Then, as Steelers linebackers loaded up against the run, they opened themselves up for huge gains in play-action. They made life easy for Blake Bortles, whose easy play-action pass to fullback Tommy Bohanon went for what proved to be the game-winning score.
WHY THE JAGUARS ARE BETTER THAN YOU THOUGHT
Offensively, the Jaguars showed some punch on the ground, which allowed Bortles to find some openings with play-action. They hadn't been able to create in the running game consistently in recent weeks. Leonard Fournette, who looked like he may have hit the rookie wall, seemed fresh as he ran for 109 yards on 25 carries. His 4.4 yards-per-carry average was his highest in over two months. It was just his second 100-yard game since mid-November. That kind of running attack will lighten the load on any quarterback. Fournette suffered an ankle injury in the Steelers game, but he returned.
WHY THE JAGUARS ARE WORSE THAN YOU THOUGHT
Defending running backs in the passing game has become a real issue for Jacksonville. In Week 16, they allowed Kyle Juszczyk of the Niners to catch five passes for 76 yards. The following week they gave up a 66-yard touchdown catch to Derrick Henry. In the Wild Card Round against the Bills, they gave up seven more catches for 54 yards to backs. And against Pittsburgh and one of the game's most talented receiving running backs, they allowed Bell to go off for nine catches for 88 yards and a score. Though their passing defense is very good, they struggle with some of the quick-hitting underneath stuff.
HOW THE PATRIOTS MAY HANDLE THINGS
While this could be a difficult game for the likes of Brandin Cooks and Chris Hogan, going up against the best corner duo in football, the Patriots just so happen to have talented matchup players coming out of the backfield. If what Jacksonville has done in covering running backs lately is any indication, it should be another big week for Dion Lewis, James White and -- if he can get back on the field -- Rex Burkhead. Get those players in space, as the Patriots were able to do against Tennessee, and watch them create. Defensively, the Patriots plan could be similar to what they did against the Titans. Load up against the run. Show five and six-man fronts. Make Bortles win from the pocket . . . and be sure to have eyes on him if he decides to scramble. Bortles ran five times for 35 yards on Sunday.