Rookie Leonard Fournette ran for three touchdowns as the Jacksonville Jaguars beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 45-42 to advance to their first AFC Championship Game in 18 years.
The Jaguars, in the NFL’s play-offs for the first time in a decade, will travel to reigning champions the New England Patriots next weekend to determine who will be the AFC’s representative in Super Bowl LII.
Jacksonville opened up a 21-point advantage in the second quarter and despite Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger throwing five touchdowns, two to Antonio Brown, the Jaguars never relinquished their lead.
They had beaten Pittsburgh at Heinz Field in the regular season when Fournette ran for 181 yards and two scores, and he found the end zone twice in the opening quarter here before TJ Yeldon scored a third rushing touchdown for the Jags.
The first of Brown’s brilliant touchdown receptions trimmed the visitors’ lead, but they hit back through a Telvin Smith fumble recovery score before Roethlisberger hooked up with Martavis Bryant on fourth and 11 to make it 28-14 to the Jags at the half.
Le’Veon Bell’s touchdown catch brought Pittsburgh within seven and even after Fournette’s third score of the afternoon, another Brown TD grab on fourth down kept the Steelers within one score of tying the contest midway through the fourth quarter.
Blake Bortles’ only touchdown throw to full-back Tommy Bohanon took Jacksonville beyond the 40-point mark, though the Steelers hit back again through Bell’s rushing score.
However, their controversial decision to kick an onside kick with 2:18 left backfired as Jacksonville recovered possession and turned it into a Josh Lambo field goal that increased their lead to 10 points.
There was still time for Roethlisberger, who ended up with 469 yards through the air, to complete a fifth touchdown toss to JuJu Smith-Schuster but it was too late to prevent Jacksonville from advancing.
The Minnesota Vikings booked a place in the NFC Championship game with a 29-24 victory over the New Orleans Saints.
They did it in stunning style as Stefon Diggs made a 61-yard run to touchdown, from Case Keenum’s throw, with the last play of the game.
A much easier evening had looked on the cards as the Vikings had led by 17 points in the third quarter before an impressive comeback by the Saints, who led by a point with 10 seconds left on the clock.
But Diggs’ memorable last-gasp touchdown gave Vikings the victory and set up a meeting with the Philadelphia Eagles.