Eagles

Upset sets up improbable AFC Championship Game

usa-leonard-fournette-jaguars.jpg
USA Today Images

Upset sets up improbable AFC Championship Game

PITTSBURGH — 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.

"The guys played with confidence all day long," Bortles said. "Obviously, what they have on their side of the ball, it's a good team. We know they got a good offense. We knew we were going to have to be efficient, hold on to the ball for a little bit, so we did it."

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.

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. He 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.

"I'm sure there will still be tons of people that are going to disapprove and talk negative or hate or do whatever they want," Bortles said. "But we get to keep playing and we get an opportunity to play in Foxborough next week for another week. Just honored to be able to do this especially with this group of guys.

"It's been an awesome year. Just want to keep it going."

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 Bohanon 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 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.

Eagles Mailbag: Predicting several positions for 2019 team

Eagles Mailbag: Predicting several positions for 2019 team

I’ll be heading to the annual NFL Scouting Combine on Tuesday, so look forward to my coverage from Indianapolis. But until then, I put out a call for mailbag questions and you guys came through. 

We had so many that we split them into three parts. 

You can read Part 1 here

And Part 2 here. 

Now, let’s get to Part 3 today: 

RB1: Not on roster yet 

WR1: Alshon Jeffery 

QB2: Nate Sudfeld

I don’t know who the Eagles’ top running back will be, but I don’t think he’s on their roster right now. That means the Eagles will either sign a free agent or draft a running back — or very possibly both. If I had to guess, I’d say Tevin Coleman as a free agent and David Montgomery as a draft pick. 

Unless the Eagles trade for Antonio Brown (unlikely), Jeffery is going to be their top receiver in 2019. 

Some folks think the Eagles should get a veteran backup behind Carson Wentz, but I don’t think they’re going to. I think they’re going to offer Sudfeld a second-round tender and keep him on the team in 2019 as Wentz’s backup. He’s young, they like him and he’s been in the system. 

I’m guessing this question is because of something I have said plenty over the last few weeks: that the Eagles need a feature back. I wouldn’t bet on that being Clement. Could he develop into that one day? Perhaps. But I can’t go into a season expecting it, especially after his season ended with a serious knee injury. 

I did see enough of him as a rookie to think he can be a part of a rotation, but in Year 2, when he had a chance to take over, he was too banged up to do it. Haven’t seen enough from Clement to think he can be a No. 1. 

Nah, it’s not that great of a need. I’m not sure why so many national types keep mocking corners to the Eagles at 25. I guess it’s possible the Eagles could take a corner in the first round if that player is clearly the BPA, but there are more pressing needs. The Eagles still have Rasul Douglas, Jalen Mills, Avonte Maddox, Sidney Jones and Cre’Von LeBlanc under contract. My money is still on OL or DL in the first round. If a top CB fell to 25 and he was clearly (and I mean clearly) the best player available, then the Eagles could draft him. 

That’s a possibility. I’m not sure Johnson would develop into that true feature back, but as a change-of-pace guy, sure, especially if Darren Sproles retires or isn’t back with the Eagles in 2019. I think getting a guy like Johnson would allow the Eagles to then draft a running back to pair with him. Not sure if they’d sign Johnson and another decent running back in the free agent market. 

Johnson has never had more that 379 yards rushing in a season, but he’s a skilled receiver out of the backfield and the Eagles could certainly find a use for him. 

I like Humphries, but he’s a slot receiver and if Nelson Agholor is back in 2019, he should be in the slot. The Eagles need to bring in outside speed at receiver and the 5-11 Humphries doesn’t have exactly what they need. 

A list of some under-the-radar names I think are viable: RB Spencer Ware, WR Cordarrelle Patterson, S Blake Countess, S Terrence Brooks, DE Margus Hunt 

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Eagles

Eagles release popular special teamer Chris Maragos

usa_chris_maragos_eagles.jpg
USA Today Images

Eagles release popular special teamer Chris Maragos

Chris Maragos, the popular special teams ace whose career has been derailed by a serious knee injury, was released Friday by the Eagles.

Maragos, 32, played in 47 of 48 games from 2014 through 2016, mainly on special teams but a significant amount at safety in 2015. But he suffered a career-threatening knee injury against the Panthers in Charlotte on Oct. 12, 2017, and hasn’t played since.

Maragos, who won a Super Bowl ring with the Seahawks in 2013 in addition to one with the Eagles in 2017, made all the road trips with the Eagles this past season even though he had no chance of playing simply because he was so respected in the locker room and such an effective leader.

“I’m really more of a coach and cheerleader these days than anything else,” he said with a smile before one game this past season.

Maragos went undrafted out of Wisconsin in 2010 and after a season with the 49ers played three years with the Seahawks before signing with the Eagles before the 2014 season.

He was signed through 2019 and will count $250,000 in dead money against the Eagles’ salary cap, which gives the Eagles a $2 million cap savings.

Maragos earned over $10 million in his career, including over $7 million from the Eagles, according to Spotrac. His career earnings high of $2.5 million came in 2016.

Maragos has had two knee operations since originally getting hurt against the Panthers, most recently this past fall. 

Even healthy, Maragos probably wouldn’t have fit in the Eagles’ plans this coming season.

Since re-signing Rodney McLeod to a contract restructure that lowered his 2019 cap figure from $.9 million to $4.84 million, the Eagles have safeties Malcolm Jenkins, McLeod and Tre’ Sullivan under contract, along with Avonte Maddox, who can play either safety or cornerback. 

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Eagles