Seemingly drama-proofed by what appears to be a string of tumult to outsiders, the Pittsburgh Steelers travel to Jacksonville with a chance to push their win streak to six games.
Pittsburgh (6-2-1, leading the AFC North) lost twice to the Jaguars last season and has good reason to tighten its focus.
As for the drama train, it appeared to derail Tuesday. Running back Le’Veon Bell did not sign the Steelers’ franchise-tag tender by a 4 p.m. Tuesday deadline, and he is no longer eligible to play in the NFL this year. His status had been an ongoing question since training camp.
“The good thing is, we don’t have to talk about it anymore,” quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said Wednesday.
What’s more, Bell’s highly capable fill-in, second-year back James Conner, was a full participant in practice Wednesday after going through concussion protocol.
“I felt good. I felt like me again, back to normal,” said Conner, who ranks third in the NFL with 771 yards rushing, with 10 touchdowns, along with 387 yards and a touchdown receiving.
Roethlisberger was named AFC offensive player of the week after he had a perfect passer racing in a 52-21 win over Carolina last Thursday, going 22 of 25 for 328 yards and scoring passes to five different players.
Steelers tackle Marcus Gilbert still wasn’t practicing as of Wednesday after missing three straight games, four overall, because of a knee injury. Also out of practice Wednesday was defensive end Stephon Tuitt, who hyperextended his elbow against Carolina last Thursday.
There’s no denying some measure of drama cloaks the Jaguars entering this matchup.
Jacksonville (3-6) has lost five in a row - including 29-26 Sunday against Indianapolis — to drop from first to last in the AFC South. Talkative cornerback Jalen Ramsey and the Jaguars vaunted defense have looked merely mortal in recent outings.
It’s not likely to get easier against the streaking Steelers.
“You know if you don’t show up and you are not ready to play then they are going to knock you on your ass,” Jaguars coach Doug Marrone said.
Marrone added, though, that he was encouraged by what he saw at Wednesday’s practice in spite of the losing skid.
“The focus is making sure we can carry this stuff over (to the game),” he said. “We have to do a good job of carrying it over to the game. When you don’t play well in this league you want to get to that game, so you can get that bad taste out of your mouth and prove it. Sometimes those weeks are so long to be able to get there.
“The players seem to have that type of attitude right now of wanting to go out there and play knowing they are going to play a heck of a football team in Pittsburgh.”
Jacksonville made a move Tuesday, signing Patrick Omameh to work at either guard or tackle after he was released by the New York Giants. Omameh started 16 games for the Jaguars at left guard last season, then signed with the Giants as an unrestricted free agent.
Three Jaguars sat out Wednesday because of injuries: nose tackle Eli Ankou (calf), left tackle Josh Walker (foot/ankle) and cornerback Quenton Meeks (knee), although Marrone said Walker could practice Thursday.
—Field Level Media