JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin was talking about a rematch with the New England Patriots in the playoffs before the teams met in the regular season.
Steelers safety Mike Mitchell guaranteed a victory over the Patriots in the playoffs before the postseason even began.
It seems to be a foregone conclusion in Pittsburgh that the Steelers will play the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game on Jan. 21. Except the Steelers still have to play the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday and the Patriots have to beat the Tennessee Titans on Saturday night.
Jaguars players said they weren’t bothered by the slight. Although if you read between the lines ...
“It’s one of those things, like, who cares?” defensive tackle Malik Jackson said. “If you want to look forward in front of the Patriots, that’s cool, you know, but if we smack you in the mouth and you’re not playing them, what’s all that going to do for you?
“It’s one of those things that we understand. We know we’re playing the Pittsburgh Steelers and that’s what we’re focused on and, hey, we’ll see what happens.”
Safety Barry Church had a quick laugh when asked about Mitchell’s comment but said it’s not going to impact him or any of his teammates.
“I mean, that’s on them,” Church said. “If that’s how they choose to come into a playoff game, that’s on them. It’s not going to affect us. We’re just going to go out there and play our game and hopefully come home with a W.”
Linebacker Telvin Smith said he has been part of teams that did look ahead -- at Florida State -- so he understands Mitchell’s mindset. Plus, the Steelers have earned a little bit of that bravado as one of the best teams in the AFC over the past two decades.
“A lot of times when guys get in those situations and you feel yourself like that, you do that,” Smith said. “I’ve been on teams in which we’ve looked at teams and said, ‘OK, we know what’s going to happen this week, let’s move on to the next week.’
“The thing that we’ve learned about society is when you grab that stigma of being somebody or something or something of importance or something great, then it sticks with you. And that’s what’s happening now, it’s sticking with them. We’re just going to continue to work and, like I said, prepare this week and get ready to go play Sunday.”
Tomlin talked about the Patriots to NBC’s Tony Dungy during a sit-down interview that aired on Nov. 26. The Steelers and Patriots weren’t playing until Dec. 17.
"I'm going to embrace the elephant in the room. [The game is] going to be fireworks," Tomlin said. "And it's probably going to be Part 1. That's going to be a big game.
"But probably, if we're both doing what we're supposed to, the second one is really going to be a big game. Then what happens in the first is going to set up the second one, which is going to determine the location of the second one."
Mitchell made his comments during an interview with The MMQB’s Greg Bishop for a story about the Steelers' defense rallying around linebacker Ryan Shazier, who suffered a spinal injury during the Dec. 4 game at Cincinnati. The interview was conducted several weeks ago.
“We're going to play [the Patriots] again,” Mitchell said. “We can play them in hell, we can play them in Haiti, we can play them in New England. ... We're gonna win."
Tomlin was asked about Mitchell’s comments during a conference call with Jacksonville media and said they were of no consequence.
“Guys, we just answer questions,” Tomlin said. “Sometimes those questions are what they are. I’m not worried about those things. That’s part of today’s ball. You guys ask us questions, we answer those questions to the best of our ability, and we move on with our day.”
Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette felt the same way.
“That doesn’t have anything to do with me or us,” he said. “I feel like that’s just how he feels. We’re focused on this game.”