It started right away. 4:20 into the AFC Divisional Playoff game, Jaguars coach Doug Marrone had an early critical decision to make. Jacksonville had just tried a trick play on 3rd and goal having QB Blake Bortles try to throw to an offensive tackle in the endzone. However, he was covered, the pass was incomplete and it was now, fourth down.
And that’s when, for the first and only time needed, Marrone sent a message to his team: “We are here to ‘punch the Steelers in the nose’…..not kick field goals.”
Then, he authorized offensive coordinator Nate Hackett to dial up a play for star RB Leonard Fournette to go up and over in a “Superman dive” that he perfected at LSU. And, that’s exactly what Fournette did for the first of six Jaguars TDs on the day.
When he landed, the score was 6-0 and even though there were 55 minutes of football to play, the Jaguars told the whole football world watching: we believe in ourselves and our chance to beat the Steelers, again.
And, as the first half wore on, it was obvious on both sides of the ball that Jacksonville was not only competitive but they were the better team.
This was exemplified when QB Ben Roethlisberger shook off an early INT and a sack/fumble that was returned for a TD and a 28-7 deficit. Big Ben kept gun-fighting and the Steelers kept scoring, but rather than get conservative, the Jaguars stayed on the gas.
And, that came from their head coach.
The biggest example in the fourth quarter was after Roethlisberger had brought them within 28-21. The Steelers were driving trying to score and tie the game. Jacksonville stopped them on fourth down at their 39 yard line and 12:43 remaining in the game.
Then, instead of getting conservative, Marrone decided again, that if the Jaguars were going down, they would go down trying to win. And that meant, tacking the conservative shackles off QB Blake Bortles.
The Jags picked up a first down on a simple slant throw to WR Marqise Lee with just over 12:00 remaining. And then, Marrone let Hackett do something that most critics of Bortles (and there have been lots) would not have believed: take a seven step drop on first down and throw long.
And because that was the play call, and because Bortles put the ball out in front of WR Keelan Cole (photo above), the result was a 45 yard strike on an incredible leaping catch and an immediate first and goal at the Pittsburgh three yard line.
Fournette bashed it in on the very next play for another 14 point cushion at 35-21.
The final score would end up 45-42 with the Jaguars making all the key plays down the stretch.
But, make no mistake, their first year full time head coach of the Jags, Marrone, could have been conservative and most would not have blamed him.
Instead, he could not have sent a more clear message, if he posted a neon sight on the video board.
That sign could’ve read: “We came to win. Better duck.”
The Jaguars did. And the Steelers did not, and got knocked out Sunday.
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