When it came to addressing the NFL community that had overlooked his team all season, former Florida and current Jacksonville Jaguars defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. did not mince words.
“We’re a Super Bowl-contending team,” Fowler Jr. said after the game, according to the Florida Times-Union’s Phillip Heilman. “For everybody that was down on us, they can eat that. They can take all that s--- and shove it up their a--.”
In addition to his fiery rhetoric, Fowler Jr. also recorded one tackle in the Jaguars’ thrilling 45-42 upset win on the road over the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday in the divisional round of the playoffs.
On the other side of the ball, former Florida offensive linemen Marcus Gilbert and Maurkice Pouncey helped Pittsburgh keep Jacksonville’s defense — which ranked second in the NFL in sacks this season — in check, only giving up two sacks in the loss. That protection allowed Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to torch the Jaguars secondary for 469 yards and five touchdowns. Gilbert exited the game in the first half and was placed under the NFL’s concussion protocol. He did not return.
For Pittsburgh, former Gators cornerback Joe Haden also had four tackles and a pass deflection.
Fowler Jr., alongside his former college teammate outside linebacker Lerentee McCray, will take on the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots in the AFC Championship this weekend. The duo is a component of Jacksonville’s physical front seven that has led the team to its first AFC Championship appearance since the 1999 season, as well as a shot at its first Super Bowl appearance in franchise history.
In Philadelphia, safety Keanu Neal gave the Atlanta Falcons momentum early on, recovering a fumble in the first minute of the game after Ricardo Allen laid a hard hit on Eagles running back Jay Ajayi.
Neal recorded six tackles in the game, including one tackle for loss. His teammate, Falcons cornerback and former Florida player Brian Poole, recorded three tackles.
However, Neal was also responsible for one of Atlanta’s costliest gaffs when he failed to intercept an errant pass from Nick Foles, instead allowing the ball to bounce off his knee and into the open arms of Philadelphia receiver Torrey Smith for a 20-yard gain.
The Eagles eventually won the game 15-10, due in large part to their lone touchdown of the contest: a 1-yard rush on fourth and goal from LeGarrette Blount. Former Gator Trey Burton lined up in front of Blount in the I-formation and provided a key block that led to the touchdown.
Burton and the Eagles will take on the Minnesota Vikings at home on Sunday in the NFC Championship. Philadelphia will attempt to return to the Super Bowl for the first time since the 2004 season, when it lost to New England in Super Bowl XXXIX.