Even though the New York Jets have lost twice in a row, with quarterback Mark Sanchez struggling, it was difficult to predict the outcome of this important game, particularly after the Baltimore Ravens won earlier. The absence of Heath Miller and, most importantly, Troy Polamalu was also weighing on Steelers' fans minds.
It was the first time the Jets returned to Heinz Field since the playoffs in 2004. The Jets have never won in Pennsylvania (until now) and hadn't scored an offensive touchdown since Thanksgiving (until this game). It certainly didn't start so well for the Pittsburgh Steelers. After winning the coin toss and deferring, on the opening kick-off by Shaun Suisham, the ball went 67 yards. Then Brad Smith, with basically no contact, returned it 97 yards for a touchdown. Seconds into the first quarter, the Steelers faced a 7-0 deficit.
After exchanging a few punts, the Jets were able to get to the Steelers 26 with a couple big runs by running back LaDaninian Tomlinson (who ended the game with 49 yards). But offensive holding was called on Matt Slauson, and linebacker James Farrior sacked Sanchez, so the Jets were forced to punt.
On the Steelers next possession, Ben Roethlisberger completed a big pass to Emmanuel Sanders on 3rd and 10 for 12 yards. Then, on 3rd and 2nd at the Jets 48, Roethlisberger threw again to Sanders, who ran to the 35 for 13 yards. After losing 8 yards on a sack on the next down, Hines Ward caught a pass on 3rd and 18 for 18 yards. If you didn't think there could be any more third down completions on this drive, on 3rd and 4 at the Jets 9, Roethlisberger threw a pass down the middle to tight end Matt Spaeth. It was the fifth time Roethlisberger sent a pass to Spaeth way and the first time he actually caught it. The 96-yard drive took 8 minutes and 12 seconds off the clock, and the score was tied up at 7-7.
When the Jets got the ball back, Sanchez passed deep to Braylon Edwards to Pittsburgh's 11-yard line for 38 yards (Edwards finished with 8 catches for 100 yards). On 3rd and 8 at the Steelers 9, Sanchez's pass to Santonio Holmes, the ex-Steeler, was short, so the Jets had to settle for a 25-yard field goal.
The Steelers were able to answer with a field goal of their own. Roethlisberger completed passes to Spaeth for 13 yards, another one for 5, and a 16-yard throw to Mike Wallace. But they couldn't get beyond the Jets 24-yard line and Suisham stayed perfect with a 42-yard field goal. So the first half ended with a 10-10 tie.
On the opening drive of the second half, the Steelers went 74 yards, culminating in a 2-yard touchdown run by Rashard Mendenhall. (Mendenhall had a great game, with 100 rushing yards on 17 carries.) But on the Jets next possession, they outsmarted the Steelers on 4th and 1 at the Steelers 7, fooling defenders when Sanchez faked the hand-off and ran 7 yards into the endzone untouched. The drive was aided by Edwards' 15-yard catch and safety Ryan Clark led with his helmet to tackle him, gifting the Jets with another 15 yards.
The Steelers would never score again, while the Jets opened up the fourth quarter with a 34-yard field goal. Then things went to hell for the Steelers, when Roethlisberger was sacked on 2nd and 8, fumbled, and lost 13 yards, though luckily Flozell Adams was able to recover it.
Both teams were forced to punt, and then the Steelers found themselves at their own 3-yard line. Roethlisberger handed the ball to Mewelde Moore, who wasn't able to get out of the endzone thanks to Jason Taylor. Safety with 2:38 left! Which would made all the difference in this game.
The Steelers offense put up a valiant effort to drive down the field 96 yards after a huge stand by the defense to make the Jets go three and out. Roethlisberger was sacked once, fumbled (yet recovered it), and lost 8 yards but, during the drive, he managed to scramble for 22 yards, throw a huge pass to Sanders on 3rd and 24 for 29 yards, another to Wallace for 18 yards, and yet another one to Antonio Brown for 16. Unfortunately, they just ran out of time, and with 2 seconds left on 3rd and 10 at the Jets 10, Roethlisberger's pass was incomplete to Spaeth, and the game was over.
The Jets, frankly, were more desperate to win this one than the Steelers. They were better coached and seemed to actually be fighting for their lives, unlike their opponent. According to the NFL, the Steelers have clinched a playoff spot "based on strength of victory." But hey, like they seem to enjoy doing all season, they like to keep things exciting. There were no turnovers in the game, which have helped give Steelers the edge in their close wins.
If they win their final two games against Carolina and Cleveland, they will win the division and a #2 spot in the AFC, while the Jets are on track to get a wild card slot. These games against "easy" opponents are never actually easy for the Steelers, so hopefully they bounce back from this loss and continue to keep improving through the playoffs.