Mehno: This one was a nightmare defeat

Commentary

PITTSBURGH — Let’s dig way down and see if we can’t find something positive to say about the debacle that defrosted at Heinz Field Sunday afternoon.

Maybe the Steelers spared their fans another heartbreak in New England by exiting the playoffs early.

Sunday’s final was Jacksonville 45, Pittsburgh 42 and it was easily one of the most frustrating losses in Mike Tomlin’s tenure as head coach.

Having a bye week didn’t matter. Playing at home didn’t make a difference, either. That old belief that regular season results don’t matter may not have been true after all.

From the first series of the game, the Steelers demonstrated that it is possible to have a nightmare at one o’clock in the afternoon.

The Jaguars were ultra-motivated, apparently stoked by social media posts from Steelers players Mike Mitchell and Le’Veon Bell, referencing the Steelers’ expected rematch with New England in the AFC Championship game.

They still call it “bulletin board material” even in this digital age, and it apparently still works in prodding people to crank up their emotions.

The Jaguars got the opening kickoff and marched right down the field. Perceived to be a run-only team, they did most of the damage with flawed quarterback Blake Bortels throwing safe passes from play action sets.

Before anybody could figure out what was happening, the Jaguars had a 21-0 lead and that’s a tall order no matter who the opponent is and upon whose turf the game is being played.

Nobody on the Steelers had an especially good game, and that includes the coaching staff, which was outdone in all phases by the Jacksonville staff.

Ben Roethlisberger became the first quarterback to throw five touchdown passes in a playoff game and lose.

Some of Roethlisberger’s passes were incredibly precise, but his workday was offset by an interception that led directly to a touchdown and a fumble that was returned for a score.

That came on a sack and, despite Roethlisberger’s weekly plaudits, the offensive line didn’t do so well against Jacksonville’s impressive front four.

The Steelers’ defense was a mess. They didn’t register a sack and rarely made Bortels uncomfortable. Rookie running back Leonard Fournette ran for three touchdowns despite missing a chunk of the game with an ankle injury.

Maybe what’s most disturbing is the Steelers stupidly decidedly to taunt the Jaguars, apparently both electronically and the old-school way.

Calvin Watkins of New York Newsday reported on Twitter that Mitchell stood outside the Jaguars’ locker room before the game and said, “Y’all gonna know my name.”

After the game, the Jaguars’ A.J. Bouye said, “I still don’t know his name. He’s going to be watching us next week.”

And that’s really the bottom line. The Steelers’ season is over. Another opportunity with a Hall of Fame quarterback and premier receiver and running back is gone.

The 13-3 regular season doesn’t matter now.

No stories this week about James Harrison playing for the Patriots. No recaps of Tom Brady’s history. The Patriots are Jacksonville’s problem.

There’s no relief in that.

Mehno can be reached at johnmehnocolumn@gmail.com

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