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The Jacksonville Jaguars haven’t faced the New England Patriots in a game that matters in more than two years. That’s OK. They know a pretty good place to go to get a heads up on their opponent in the AFC title game.
”We need the notes the Steelers have on the Patriots because they were doing a lot of advanced scouting Youth Harrison Phillips Jersey ,” safety Barry Church said Sunday after the Jaguars stunned Pittsburgh 45-42 to earn a trip to Foxborough next weekend to face the defending Super Bowl champions. ”We need all the notes they got on the Patriots. Other than that, it’s time to roll to New England baby.”
With their brute force rookie running back, their enigmatic quarterback and more than a little bit of swagger in tow.
”You can do all the talking you want on Twitter, to the media, all of that,” Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey said. ”But when you get on the field you’re going to have to produce, you’re going to have to show us what you’re about. We’re confident because we know the work we put in. We’re going to go out there confident.”
Ticked off by several Steelers openly talking about a rematch with the Patriots with a spot in the Super Bowl on the line, the Jaguars took it out on Pittsburgh one touchdown at a time. They earned the franchise’s third trip to the conference championship game in the process.
Now it’s on to New England, a place they’ve never won and where the Patriots hung 51 on them in 2015. But that was before coach Doug Marrone put together the NFL’s best defense. Before Leonard Fournette arrived. Before Blake Bortles embraced his role as the enigmatic touchstone for a team that suddenly looks like a threat on both sides of the ball.
Third-seeded Jacksonville (12-6) never trailed and was only rarely threatened on an afternoon it matched the most points the Steelers have given up in their storied playoff history. Fournette churned for 109 yards and three scores . Bortles bounced back from an ugly performance against Buffalo by throwing for 214 yards and a fourth-quarter touchdown to at least temporarily hit mute on his critics.
”I have no animosity against anyone who said anything,” Bortles said. ”I’m happy to be able to come here and do this with this team. There are a lot of guys on the couch watching this.”
That group now will include the Steelers. Pittsburgh (13-4) lost at home in the divisional round for the second time in 11 tries, unable to overcome a sluggish start that allowed the Jaguars to take a 21-point lead.
The Steelers only had the ball with a chance to tie once over the final three quarters, the lone shot evaporating when Ben Roethlisberger threw incomplete on fourth-and-1 at the Jacksonville 39 early in the fourth quarter. The Jaguars responded with a drive that culminated in Fournette’s third touchdown, and that was it.
Roethlisberger, who finished with 469 yards passing and a franchise-record five touchdowns , said he will be back in 2018, though the sting of a stunning upset will linger into an offseason longer than planned.
”If you don’t win the Super Bowl, you’ve underachieved, right?” Roethlisberger said. ”Because that is always our goal. It wasn’t our day. It wasn’t our year.”
JUGGERNAUT JAGUARS: Though Jacksonville’s offense has endured dry spells this season, the Jaguars did finish the regular season fifth in scoring. While the defense chipped in a touchdown on a 48-yard fumble return by linebacker Telvin Smith, Bortles kept the Jaguars moving. Jacksonville converted 8 of 14 third downs and its lone fourth-down conversion came on Fournette’s 1-yard leap in the first quarter.
”All week everybody was talking about our offense wasn’t going to do good, they were going to shut down our offense Youth Taron Johnson Jersey ,” Jacksonville linebacker Myles Jack said. ”As you saw, Blake Bortles, he was hitting the open man. He had a plethora of big throws. Fournette was running the ball the hardest I’ve seen them. The offense did a hell of a job.”
INSPIRING STEELER: Pittsburgh linebacker Ryan Shazier tried to rally the Steelers with a halftime visit to their locker room.
Shazier, who underwent surgery to stabilize his spine last month, spoke with his teammates as they were fighting back from a 28-14 deficit. Still in a wheelchair during his recovery, Shazier was also around following the 45-42 loss, a stunning setback that concluded a challenging season for the AFC North champions.
The 25-year-old Shazier has made significant progress, but his playing future remains uncertain because of the injury he suffered making a routine tackle on Dec. 4 against Cincinnati.
Pittsburgh’s crowd roared when Shazier was shown on the Heinz Field scoreboard in the third quarter.
UNDERACHIEVERS: Steelers All-Pro wide receiver Antonio Brown returned from a left calf injury to catch seven passes for 132 yards and two touchdowns . Yet, the only player in NFL history with five consecutive 100-catch seasons will again watch the Super Bowl at home.
”We cannot seem to get the job done,” Brown said. ”That’s what’s so sad about the journey. You come so close.”
AP Sports Writer Tom Withers contributed.
AP NFL website:
HOUSTON — Houston Astros veteran catcher Brian McCann pledged on Friday that he will return before the regular season concludes despite undergoing surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee earlier in the week.
McCann was placed on the 10-day disabled list on Tuesday. There is no timetable for his return.
McCann had dealt with recurring knee pain since last year. After posting a 108 OPS in his first campaign with the Astros in 2017, McCann was down to a 73 OPS this season, slashing .206/.283/.323 with five home runs and 17 RBIs over 50 games. McCann has played in 1,657 games since making his debut on June 10, 2005, catching 12,733 innings with the Atlanta Braves, New York Yankees, and Astros during the regular season.
“He’s got a little bit of mileage on him when it comes to catching games,” said Astros manager A.J. Hinch, a former catcher. “His knees have held up fine and he can play through a lot of pain. I think that’s what I appreciate the most in learning and knowing how much pain he played through. He tried, and he did a lot of things to post for our pitching staff. I think that’s one of the reasons he’s one of the most respected guys in there is what he’s willing to do to contribute.
“As his play declined Youth Jeremy Kerley Jersey , his comfort declined and what it took for him to play every day, we needed to get it taken care of.”
Right-hander Charlie Morton (10-2, 2.55 ERA) will get the start for the Astros on Saturday. Morton has faced the White Sox once previously, working seven shutout innings while allowing four hits and one walk with three strikeouts in a 3-0 victory with the Pirates on June 16, 2015.
Morton is 24-9 with a 3.18 ERA and 296 strikeouts over 249 innings with the Astros.
In his past two starts, Morton has dominated in a win against Toronto and a loss to Tampa. In a 7-0 win against the Blue Jays he struck out 13 in seven innings. The Rays touched him up for two runs, but that was enough for a 3-2 Tampa Bay win. Morton struck out 11 in 6 2/3 innings.
Right-hander James Shields (3-9, 4.12 ERA) will start for the White Sox (30-58) on Saturday. He is 1-4 with a 5.17 ERA on the road this season and 2-3 with a 3.19 ERA over seven career starts against the Astros. In his only start against Houston this season, Shields gave up seven runs in 5 1/3 innings and took the loss in a 10-0 defeat on April 20.
In 76 games (75 starts) against the American League West, Shields is 26-26 with a 3.83 ERA.
With right-hander Reynaldo Lopez working just 4 2/3 innings, the Chicago bullpen was forced to shoulder a heavy load again on Friday. Right-hander Chris Volstad, and lefties Luis Avilan and Hector Santiago combined to allow eight runs on seven hits and one walk over 3 1/3 innings in Chicago’s 11-4 loss, marking the 10th consecutive game the White Sox bullpen has surrendered a run.
Chicago relievers have pitched 303 2/3 innings this season, eighth-most in the American League.
“Obviously, (Lopez) didn’t give us the outing we were looking for,” White Sox manager Rick Renteria said. “Worked through quite a bit of traffic, some deep counts, pitch count ran up there a bit. Had to give it to the relief corps again, which is strained.”