For the first time since 1999, the Jacksonville Jaguars will play for a conference championship.
After upsetting the Pittsburgh Steelers, 45-42, on the road in the AFC divisional round on Sunday, Jacksonville will travel to Foxborough to try to earn its first Super Bowl berth and beat New England for just the second time in club history. Kickoff is set for 3:05 p.m. next Sunday.
Here are a few things to know about the Patriots’ opponent:
History lesson: The Jaguars have played in 13 postseason games, four against the Patriots. New England won three, including the two most recent meetings: the 2007 divisional round and the 2005 wild-card round. Jacksonville is 1-10 all time against New England. The last meeting came two seasons ago when quarterback Tom Brady and Co. completely drubbed Blake Bortles and the Jags, 51-17, at Gillette Stadium.
Getting defensive: In two games this postseason, the Jaguars have given up 808 yards and 45 points, the majority of the damage coming in Pittsburgh. But Jacksonville, which intercepted Ben Roethlisberger five times in their regular-season meeting, forced the Steelers into turnovers again despite giving up its most yards of the season (545).
A Myles Jack interception set up a Leonard Fournette touchdown and a Roethlisberger fumble was picked up and returned for a touchdown by Telvin Smith. The Jaguars have now scored eight defensive touchdowns this season, including the playoffs, the most by one team since 2012.
Despite going against the league’s top passing offense, Roethlisberger amassed 469 yards through the air, a playoff franchise record, and five touchdown passes. He is the only quarterback to reach the 300-yard mark against this unit this season, and Antonio Brown is the only receiver with 100 or more receiving yards against the Jaguars.
But the Jags were still disruptive. They broke up eight passes — including Paul Posluszny’s near interception in the second quarter that went right through his hands and Jalen Ramsey’s near interception in the end zone with less than three minutes left — hit Roethlisberger six times and sacked him twice. The unit also held receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster to just 5 yards on three catches and a garbage-time touchdown.
Bortles, undefeated in the playoffs: Yes, he compiled more yards on the ground (88) than through the air (87) against Buffalo in the wild-card round. Yes, he led the league in turnovers over his first three seasons (63). And, yes, the fourth-year man is now 2-0 in the playoffs.
Although he had a nice three-week stretch in December in which he completed 71.4 percent of his passes for 903 yards, seven touchdowns, and no interceptions, Bortles fell back into his familiar habits to close out the regular season. In Weeks 16 and 17, he completed just 56 percent of his passes for 540 yards, two scores, and five interceptions. Against Buffalo, his completion percentage was 52.2.
Against the Steelers on Sunday, he was neither stellar nor shoddy; he was pedestrian. His most impressive throw of the day was a 45-yarder to undrafted rookie Keenan Cole in double coverage to set up a fourth-quarter touchdown. Bortles did not throw an interception or turn the ball over. He tossed one touchdown pass and paced the sometimes ineffective offense to 378 total yards and 38 points. Bortles finished with 214 yards on 14-of-26 passing (53.8 completion percentage).
Force of Fournette: Although he was injured in the second quarter Sunday, the rookie running back had his way with the Steelers in both meetings this season. In Week 5, the LSU product put up season-high numbers: 181 yards and two touchdowns on 28 carries. And although the Bills largely bottled him up in the wild-card round — he gained just 57 yards on 21 rushes — Fournette finished with 109 yards and a trio of touchdowns against the Steelers. He is the third rookie to have 100-yard outings against the same team in the regular season and playoffs and the second rookie in league history to rush for three scores in one game. His 1,040 yards in the regular season ranked eighth in the league and he finished with nine touchdowns on 268 carries, his 3.9 yards per rush ranking sixth in the league.
But if Fournette’s injury turns out to plague him into the coming week, it could spell trouble for the inconsistent Jacksonville offense as it prepares to face New England. Bortles struggled without Fournette in the regular season, throwing seven touchdowns to 10 interceptions when Fournette was off the field and 15 touchdowns and three interceptions when Fournette was on the field. Backup running back T.J. Yeldon, who gained 253 yards and scored two touchdowns on 49 carries in the regular season, was serviceable in Fournette’s stead on Sunday. He accounted for 77 yards and a touchdown on eight touches.
Odds and ends: This marks the first time since 1996 Jacksonville has won multiple playoff games in a season . . . The franchise is now 7-6 in the postseason . . . This will be the club’s third appearance in an AFC title game . . . The Jaguars become just the second team since the 1970 merger to advance to a conference championship a year after winning three games, according to Elias Sports Bureau. They join the 2006 Saints . . . Jacksonville became the 17th team to play in Pittsburgh twice in one season and only the second of those teams to beat the Steelers both times. The other team was the 2007 Jaguars, according to ESPN Stats & Info.