It sounded too good to be true.
- The Jets had never won in Pennsylvania, let alone Pittsburgh.
- New York had been humiliated on national TV by the Patriots.
- The lowly Miami Dolphins had beaten the Jets
- One of their assistant coaches had been suspended for interfering in the game
On top of that, yesterday’s wonder boy quarterback, Mark Sanchez, was seemingly buckling under late season pressure.
It all seemed too good to be true. And it was.
The Pittsburgh Steelers dropped a heart breaker to the New York Jets.
To their credit, the Steelers never overlooked the Jets. To their credit, the Steelers ran the ball well. To their credit, the Steelers protected their quarterback. To their credit, the Steelers (generally) avoided the drive-killing holding and false start penalties. To their credit, they scored on offense.
In spite of all of that, they lost because they failed to do something that they had consistently done during the previous three weeks.
The game’s final outcome hinged on several key points. Many key “if the Steelers had only” moments and perhaps none were so egregious as the opening kick off.
All season long, Steelers Nation has relished in the glory of having special teams capable of striking blood instead of self-inflicting wounds.
Alas, that reality changed against New York, as the Jets opened the game with a 7-0 lead, catching the Steelers special teams asleep at the switch.
While this special teams gaffe was a decisive moment, Al Everest’s special teams reverted to a liability all day long. The Steelers never threatened to break one and failed to kick it deep.
Cool Under Fire
Any hope the Jets had of starting the day with a psychological edge as a result of their big play was in vain.
The Steelers did not blink.
Although they did not tie the game until the second quarter, the Steelers offense took a workman like approach began doing all of the things they have not been doing in recent weeks. Running the ball effectively, converting third downs, and perhaps, most surprisingly, protecting their quarterback.
The defense too held up its part. Santonio Holmes failed to dominate the game, or make a big play. The Steelers did give up an uncharacteristic high number of yards rushing, but they managed to hold the Jets to below 50% on third down conversions.
That last static does not seem, and is not, overwhelming, but at the end of the day the Steelers defense only gave up 13 points. That should be enough to beat anyone.
Ah, but it is always the exceptions, the data that falls outside the “standard deviation from the mean” that is most interesting, and in today’s game, determining.
A Word About the Officials
The Steelers cost themselves the game, not the referees. But the officials certainly did not help, by failing to flag:
- 2, if not 3, blatant pass interference calls on the part of the Jets DB’s
- A Greco-Roman wrestling match between a defender and a Steelers wide out (Hines Ward?) on the game’s final play.
Oh, but they did manage to call an unnecessary roughness “helmet-to-helmet” on a play where Ryan Clark’s helmet never made contact with Brandon Edwards. How convenient.
The worst incident of the entire Steelers defense biting on a play fake in a big game thus far (and God willing forever) was the infamous Alfred Pupunu touchdown against San Diego in the 1994 AFC Championship game.
- Matt Sanchez’s 7 yard scamper might count as the next. Everyone, everyone, on the Steelers defense bought the run up the middle hook-line-and sinker.
Rex Ryan’s bait and switch show was only beginning.
Clinging to a 20-17 lead, the Steelers had stopped the Jets at their own 47, bringing up a 3rd and 6. This time it was Sanchez who turned in an Oscar-worthy performance as L.T. got the direct snap and ran for 10 yards.
The Steelers would eventually force a punt, but only after the Jet’s had advanced to the Steelers 32 and burned precious minutes off of the clock. Oh, yeah, and they were able to punt the ball into the Steelers 3 yard line.
Then the line, which had performed so admirably all day, neglected to block Jason Taylor, a man who only has 131.5 sacks to his credit. The Steelers paid with a safety and a punt from the 20 yard line.
- Make that 9 points scored by the Jets with the defense on the sidelines.
And that folks, is the game.
Howl all you want about the non-calls. All of those are non-issues if the Steelers cover the kick, block a defensive end with 100+ sacks, and refuse to take the bait on two play fakes.
The Steelers did not play particularly well, or at least consistent, football against the Bills, Ravens, and Bengals. But they won because they made plays at critical moments.
Against the Jets the Steelers improved their play on the fundamentals, but allowed the Jets to make plays at critical moments. And that was ultimately the difference in this game.