3 mystifying play calls by the Steelers helped the Jaguars pull off the biggest upset of the NFL playoffs

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
  • The Pittsburgh Steelers lost to the Jacksonville Jaguars, 45-42, on Sunday, sending the Jaguars to the AFC Championship.
  • The loss was due in part to a series of poor play calls and missed opportunities from the Steelers offence, especially on fourth down.
  • Head coach Mike Tomlin also decided to attempt an onside kick when the Steelers still had time to kick it deep and get a stop.

The Pittsburgh Steelers season is over after losing at home to the Jacksonville Jaguars, 45-42, on Sunday.

Though the Jaguars played well and earned the win, thanks in part to a three-touchdown effort from rookie running back Leonard Fournette, the Steelers blew quite a few chances that could have swung the game thanks to poor decision-making on the part of Ben Roethlisberger and head coach Mike Tomlin.

The first bad call came with the Steelers facing fourth-and-inches from the edge of the red zone in the first quarter. Down 14-0, Pittsburgh elected to go for it, and lined up with a tight trips formation and a single runner in the backfield. Roethlisberger didn’t like what he saw from the Jaguars defence, altered the play at the line, and opted to pitch the ball back to Le’Veon Bell, who got blown up in the backfield.

There’s no harm in going for it on fourth down – it’s likely a decision more teams should make – but tossing the ball wide and gunning for the edge is an odd way for the Steelers to try and pick up a few inches. With Roethlisberger’s size, it’s tough to imagine him being unable to make it to the marker.

In the fourth quarter, Roethlisberger would get a chance at redemption. Down 28-21 and facing fourth-and-one, the Steelers lined up in the same formation, and Roethlisberger once again appeared to call an audible at the line. But rather than sneaking the ball himself or handing it off for Le’Veon Bell, Roethlisberger threw a 15-yard dart off play-action that fell incomplete.

Either one of these conversions could’ve been game-changers, but both times the Steelers offence came up short on an inexplicable play call.

Still, the Steelers were right in the game, and could have even had a chance to tie or win it in the final seconds if not for yet another egregious decision.

After scoring a touchdown just before the two-minute warning to make it a one-score game, the Steelers had the option to kick the ball deep and try and force a stop or try for an onside kick. Mike Tomlin decided to take the risk on the onside kick, and was gifted with an absolutely atrocious attempt from kicker Chris Boswell. The ball never made it ten yards and the Jaguars took possession in Pittsburgh territory.

The Steelers’ defence forced a three-and-out, but Jacksonville was able to kick a field goal on fourth down rather than needing to punt the ball away thanks to the short field Pittsburgh gifted them. The Jaguars went up by 10 and the Steelers ran out of time to complete their comeback.

The loss sends Pittsburgh home and sends Jacksonville to Foxborough next weekend for an AFC Championship matchup with the New England Patriots.

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