If you would have told me the Steelers could put 42 points on the Jaguars vaunted defense in the Divisional Playoffs at Heinz Field on Sunday, I may have immediately had visions of an AFC title game rematch against the Patriots dancing in my head.
Thankfully, there aren't any psychics around, because I hesitate to think what my emotional state would have been had I then witnessed what actually took place, which was a 45-42 loss that now has me wondering which coaches and quarterbacks will be on the Steelers sidelines next year, as the team now mopes into the 2018 offseason.
The reason 42 points wasn't enough to defeat the Jaguars was because Pittsburgh simply lost the game far too many times to actually come back and win it.
Take the first questionable play-call on fourth and one (inches, actually). This one occurred very late in the first quarter, after a far-too easy Jacksonville opening touchdown-drive and an interception by Ben Roethlisberger put the home team in a quick 14-0 hole.
Sitting at the Jacksonville 21, what move would offensive coordinator Todd Haley make? Would he allow his 6'5" quarterback to sneak it over the line for those inches? Would he bring in fullback Roosevelt Nix and instruct him to clear a path for running back Le'Veon Bell to gain at least those few inches?
Instead of either of those moves, Haley called a pitch-out to Bell, who had zero chance to beat a super-fast defense around the corner. This resulted in a four-yard loss, a turnover on downs and, moments later, a 21-0 deficit, as Jacksonville marched 75 yards on 11 plays in front of a home crowd that may have been too numb to feel the frigid game-time temperatures.
But just when you thought the Steelers were out of it, they quickly clawed their way back into things, thanks to a 23-yard touchdown catch by the magnificent Antonio Brown.
After the defense held, the offense found itself near midfield with a little over two minutes to go before halftime.
Thanks to their decision to defer on the opening kickoff, the Steelers had a chance to score a touchdown right before the break and then right after the break—and they did on a 36-yard strike from Roethlisberger to Martavis Bryant on fourth and 11 with just 25 ticks remaining in the second quarter, followed by a 19-yard thing of beauty from Roethlisberger to Bell on a wheel route on the first offensive series of the third quarter.
Only problem was that strip-sack of Roethlisberger that took place way back when the offense was at midfield. Linebacker Telvin Smith picked up the fumble and raced 50 yards for his second defensive touchdown at Heinz Field during the 2017/18 season—or two more than Keith Butler's unit could muster in 17 games.
Therefore, instead of a 21-21 tie early in the second half, Pittsburgh found itself trailing by seven points.
But there was hope as the defense forced back-to-back punts.
As for that second punt, it was blocked by Robert Golden and settled just 15 yards away, setting Pittsburgh up at the Jaguars' 48-yard line early in the fourth quarter.
After traveling just nine yards on its first three downs, the Steelers offense faced yet another fourth and one (this time, closer to a yard than to inches).
Did Haley learn from that previous fourth and short?
Didn't seem like it, after rookie wide-out JuJu Smith-Schuster failed to hold on to a pass from Roethlisberger about 20 yards downfield.
What came next were touchdowns by each team on the next four offensive possessions.
Following that fourth touchdown—an eight-yard scamper by Bell after a lateral from Roethlisberger to pull Pittsburgh within seven points with 2:18 to play—head coach Mike Tomlin elected to go for an onside kick.
Unfortunately, Jacksonville recovered, and then kicked a field goal, making that four-yard touchdown by Smith-Schuster with just one second left feel about as special as the Patriots now-likely sixth Super Bowl victory will in about three weeks.
The Steelers season is now officially over, and darn it if they didn't hammer the final few nails in their coffin all by themselves.