The Pittsburgh Steelers aren’t giving the Jacksonville Jaguars their due.
There’s an obvious reason why. The Jaguars looked atrocious in their playoff opener against the Buffalo Bills. Blake Bortles looked like he’d forgotten how to hold — let alone throw — a football.
But perhaps Pittsburgh is forgetting that Bortles’ ability throw the football had nothing to do with the blowout defeat the Jaguars handed the Steelers in Week 5. It was an embarrassment.
The Steelers lost, 30-9, against an unproven Jaguars team. Bortles threw for 85 yards while Leonard Fournette trampled the Steelers with 28 carries for 181 yards and two rushing touchdowns. The Jaguars defense had two touchdowns while the Steelers — who had a healthy Ben Reothlisberger, Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell — couldn’t get into the end zone. Reothlisberger threw five interceptions.
After the Steelers flipped on the film of that game, they should have had zero difficulty focusing on Jacksonville.
And yet Steelers cornerback Mike Mitchell is guaranteeing a Steelers’ win over the Patriots in the AFC championship game. The only problem, of course, is that they haven’t gotten there yet.
Mitchell is not the only player whose focus is misallocated. On Thursday, Bell made a threat to retire or sit in 2018 over a contract dispute. While Bell is poo-pooing roughly $15 million, Telvin Smith, Myles Jack and Paul Posluszny are studying tape on how to keep Bell contained in the Steelers backfield — again. Players should absolutely fight for money. But doing so just three days before the biggest game of the season feels selfish. Plus, Bell’s retirement threats are transparently empty. He’s just making headlines for all the wrong reasons and at the exact wrong moment.
There is also one player who hasn’t mentioned retirement who may actually do so. Ben Roethlisberger may be about to play his final game at Heinz Field on Sunday after mulling retirement last season. He acknowledged that he won’t make an announcement until after the season. It’s on his mind.
What’s worse, Stephon Tuitt, who was intent on “hunting” Fournette, is now dealing with an injury and may not play. His absence won’t help the Steelers improve their 4.4 yards per carry allowed, which tied them for fifth-worst in the NFL during the regular season. Tuitt and starting cornerback Artie Burns suffered injuries this week that could keep them out of the game Sunday. The potential loss of Burns might mean Bortles could complete a pass or two.
Pittsburgh is willing this trap game into existence. They’re navel gazing. They’re New England gazing. They’re contract gazing. They’re looking everywhere but at Jacksonville.