I wanted to write about the Patriots walloping the Titans 35-14 on Saturday night immediately after the game, but I couldn’t. After all, they had just knocked the Cinderella Titans out of the playoffs in the divisional round with a 21-point thrashing to advance to their seventh straight AFC Championship game.
Hold on, timeout. In order to truly get the impressiveness of that statement across, it needs to be in all caps. Let’s try again:
SEVENTH STRAIGHT AFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME.
That is unheard of. Seven straight trips to the conference title game. Will we ever see anything like that again? So yeah, I wanted to write about it right then and there. But I couldn’t. I had to wait until Sunday’s games were over. I had to make sure the Steelers took care of the Jaguars to set up the rematch from Week 15 against New England. The rematch that I had been heavily anticipating ever since the Pats narrowly escaped the ‘Burgh with that 27-24 win in Week 15. I just had to make sure it was official before I could write this column.
And then the Jaguars happened. The same team that barely escaped the subpar Bills with a 10-3 win last week somehow went into Pittsburgh and knocked the Steelers on their rear ends. Jacksonville led by as much as 21-0 in the first half, thanks in large part to their defense. And then here’s the really weird part: When the Steelers started mounting a comeback, Blake Bortles stepped up and turned into a good quarterback. He even threw a touchdown pass late in the game that helped put the game away once and for all. Blake Bortles did this????
The final score from Pittsburgh was Jags 45, Steelers 42. It was a combination of the Jacksonville defense, Bortles and Leonard Fournette coming through in the clutch on offense, and some absolutely atrocious coaching by Mike Tomlin (down by seven and going for an onside kick, still with two timeouts and the two-minute warning in your pocket, was one of the worst coaching calls I have ever seen in playoff football), but it happened. The Jacksonville Jaguars upset the Pittsburgh Steelers, earning a trip to Foxboro, Massachusetts for the AFC Championship game next week.
You want to talk about weird and unexpected? In order to reach Super Bowl 52 in Minneapolis, the road for the Patriots goes through the Tennessee Titans and the Jacksonville Jaguars. The quarterbacks standing in their way have been Marcus Mariota and Blake Bortles. Definitely one of the more bizarre sentences I’ve ever typed. Who saw that coming?
One of those random opponents has been taken care of. The Pats downed Mariota and the Titans with ease on Saturday, just as everyone expected. They fell behind 7-0 early in the first quarter, but Tom Brady quickly answered back with a touchdown to James White, and the Patriots never looked back. White rushed for another touchdown, Brady hit Chris Hogan for another touchdown, Brandon Bolden rushed for a touchdown, and then Brady capped it off with a touchdown pass to Rob Gronkowski, the best tight end in football. By that point, the game was long over.
Patriots 35, Titans 14.
On to yet another AFC Championship game. On to the Jacksonville Jaguars. Not the Pittsburgh Steelers … the Jaguars.
Hey, the NFL stopped being normal a long time ago. I don’t know why I’m surprised by this.