Perhaps it’s fitting that it’s been exactly 30 seasons since the Steelers up-and-down 1984 campaign that eventually culminated in an improbable berth in the AFC Championship game.
Much like the ’84 team, if the 2014 edition makes it into the postseason, it may look back on its performances against seemingly inferior opponents and realize just how fortunate things turned out.
The Steelers traveled to MetLife Stadium on Sunday with a 6-3 record and riding an impressive three game winning-streak over Houston, Indianapolis and Baltimore–all AFC playoff contenders. However, just like against the Buccaneers in Week 4, who were 0-3 and the Jaguars a week later, who were 0-4, Pittsburgh got off to a slow start against a Jets team that came into the game 1-8 and fell behind by scores of 17-0 and 20-3 before losing, 20-13, to fall to 6-4 on the season.
If you’re a team historian and know anything about the ’84 Steelers, you know they recorded some crucial victories that year over the 49ers, the soon-to-be Super Bowl champions and the Raiders, the defending league champions. But Pittsburgh also lost games to a Colts team that would lose 12 games and an Oilers squad that would lose 13.
So far in 2014, the Buccaneers, Jaguars and Jets all look to be on their way to similar records, with a combined four wins, yet two of them have come against Pittsburgh.
Heading into the game, many said the Jets weren’t quite as bad as their record may have indicated, what with veteran quarterback Michael Vick taking the place of the struggling Geno Smith, who was responsible for the majority of the team’s 18 turnovers, and receiver Percy Harvin in the line-up after coming over from Seattle in a trade.
Also, despite giving up the most passing touchdowns in the NFL and recording only three takeaways, New York’s defense did boast a rather potent pass rush, with 25 quarterback sacks before Sunday’s action.
Coming off a record 12 touchdown passes in two games, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was on the roll of his career. And against a make-shift New York secondary, he figured to be licking his chops.
Unfortunately, other than a long touchdown to rookie Martavis Bryant late in the game that cut the Jets lead to 20-13 and only delayed the inevitable, Roethlisberger didn’t look anything like the passer he was in recent weeks, as he was intercepted twice–including one near the goal line in the second quarter that snuffed out a potential scoring drive–and wasn’t in-rhythm with his receivers most of the afternoon. Roethlisberger may have only been sacked twice, but he was certainly under pressure a good bit of the day and needed his mobility and strength to avoid more.
Pro Bowl receiver Antonio Brown had a fairly awful day and equaled his quarterback in the turnover department, fumbling on a short screen pass early in the game that led to a Jets touchdown and muffing a punt later on that was recovered by New York.
Pittsburgh’s defense wasn’t totally awful on Sunday, but it certainly wasn’t good enough to make up for four turnovers by the offense. And while the Steelers defense did sack Vick four times and limited him to just 125 yards through the air, the unit was gouged for 150 on the ground and failed to take the football away at all.
Kicker Shaun Suisham got in on the act, as he missed a 23 yard field goal in the second half after booting one from 53 near the end of the first half. Also, Suisham’s onside kick attempt after Pittsburgh cut the lead to 20-13 was pretty awful and recovered by the Jets without much suspense.
The Steelers, who had a chance at first place with a 7-3 record, now find themselves in a tie with Baltimore for third (or last) place in the AFC North, with the Browns on top of the division with a 6-3 mark.
Pittsburgh travels to Tennessee next Monday night for a prime-time match-up against a lowly Titans team, who will enter the game at 2-7.
Hopefully, the 2014 Steelers will find a way to avoid a second-straight loss to an AFC bottom-feeder. Otherwise, that impressive three-game winning streak at Heinz Field will seem like a distant memory.