Jaguars make emphatic statement with upset of Steelers

There wasn’t a lot of chatter about the Jacksonville Jaguars’ chances in their first playoff appearance since the 2007 season.

In fact, it even appeared that at least some of the Steelers, despite losing to Jacksonville 30-9 in Pittsburgh in Week 5, might have been looking past the Jaguars and ahead to a potential AFC championship showdown against New England.

“We’re going to play (the Patriots) again,” Steelers free safety Mike Mitchell told Sports Illustrated. “We can play them in hell, we can play them in Haiti, we can play them in New England … we’re gonna win.”

Running back Le’Veon Bell also added fuel to the fire, tweeting on Saturday, “I love round 2’s … we’ll have two round 2’s in back-to-back weeks.”

But after dismantling the Steelers 45-42 on Sunday in the AFC divisional round, it’s the Jaguars who are a game away from reaching Super Bowl LII. And they’re also having their say.

“We showed up,” Jaguars defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. said. “We didn’t talk with all the trash talk they were doing this week. We were quiet. We didn’t say anything. Real people are quiet, and then they throw the first punch.”

It’s the first time Jacksonville has been this far since the 1999 season. Should the Jaguars reach the Super Bowl for the first time in franchise history, they’re going to have to do it on the home turf of the defending champs. Jacksonville will face the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium on Sunday.

“I’m just happy to win,” said quarterback Blake Bortles, who has been subject to criticism throughout his career. “I have no animosity against anyone who said anything. I’m happy to be able to come here and do this with this team.

“There are a lot of guys home on the couch watching this. I’m sure they are wishing that they could play. I know in years past I have been. So, having the opportunity to be able to continue to play feels awesome.”

Meanwhile, defensive back Barry Church didn’t hold back after the win in Pittsburgh.

“We did it the first time,” Church said. “We knew we had this team’s number. All we did was feed on the fuel that everybody was providing.

“The media, everybody was talking about how it’s not going to be like last week, Blake Bortles this, Blake Bortles that. All he did was dominate their defense. All we did was do what we do every week, that’s play ball and create takeaways and score. That’s what we did and we dominated.

“We are on to the next round, and we need the notes that the Steelers had on the Patriots. They were doing all that advanced scouting. We need the notes they got for the Patriots. It is time to roll, New England baby.”

“We’re not done yet”

After Sunday’s win, the Jaguars returned to EverBank Field in Jacksonville, where an estimated 10,000 fans welcomed them. It was their turn to make bold predictions.

“We’re not done yet,” defensive end Calais Campbell said, according to the team’s website. “This is just the beginning, baby. All the hard work is for this moment, right here. We’re going to the Super Bowl. Let’s go.”

Added cornerback Jalen Ramsey: “We’re going to the Super Bowl, and we’re going to win that (expletive).”

The Jaguars’ reach extends beyond Jacksonville. In 2012, the franchise became the lone NFL team to make a multi-year commitment to play in the NFL London Games. This agreement has been extended to 2020.

But they hadn’t been an easy watch over the last several years, winning just 17 games from 2012 to 2016.

Still, heading into this season, even though the Jaguars had gone 3-13 the year before, Campbell said he knew a turnaround was possible with the help of returning talent, leadership in executive vice president of football operations Tom Coughlin — who defeated the Patriots in two Super Bowls when he was the Giants head coach — and head coach Doug Marrone and signings during off-season free agency.

“We know when we all come together and do it right we are a tough team to beat,” Campbell said. “We’re hard to beat. We can beat anybody.”

The results: a 10-6 record and one of the top defenses in the league. And there is at least one more game to go.

“We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us,” Marrone said to the EverBank Field crowd. “We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us.”