Steelers-Jets: What we learned

The SportsXchange

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Two lessons were learned Sunday afternoon at MetLife Stadium: It's too early to declare the Pittsburgh Steelers finished, and too early to declare the New York Jets a contender.

Ben Roethlisberger threw for 264 yards and directed four consecutive scoring drives between the first and third quarters as the Steelers earned their first win of the season, 19-6 victory over the Jets.

The Steelers (1-4) avoided their first 0-5 start since 1968 thanks to the type of efficient offense and opportunistic defense they did not display while getting outscored 110-69 over the season's first four weeks.

"I told the guys in the locker room: There was nothing mystical about it," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. "We maintained possession of the football and we got the football -- in particular, we got the football in the red area (and) took points off the board. That was significant."

Shaun Suisham converted all four of his field-goal attempts, including three in the first half as the Steelers took a 9-6 lead at the break. Roethlisberger (23-for-30) threw a 55-yard touchdown pass to Emmanuel Sanders early in the third quarter to cap an impressive 22-minute sequence by Pittsburgh, which went three-and-out on its first two drives.

Pittsburgh receiver Antonio Brown dominated gimpy Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie, making nine catches for 86 yards, while Heath Miller had six grabs for 84 yards.

The Steelers limited the Jets (3-3) to two Nick Folk field goals and twice picked off Geno Smith inside the Pittsburgh 10-yard-line -- the first turnovers generated by the Steelers this season.

"There's plays and then there's significant plays and then there's 'splash' plays," Tomlin said. "Today we made the splash plays, and that's why we were able to win."

The Steelers' long-term hopes grew a bit rosier, as well, with the win. No team that started 0-5 made the playoffs since the postseason field expanded to 12 teams in 1990.

In addition, only one other AFC Central team (the Cincinnati Bengals) managed to win Sunday. The Steelers are 2 1/2 games behind the Bengals and 1 1/2 games behind the Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns.

Still, the Steelers are a long way from entertaining thoughts of following in the footsteps of the 1992 San Diego Chargers, who opened the season 0-4 before winning the AFC West.

"The mindset is congratulations, good win, let's get home, enjoy it for a little bit and get back to work," Roethlisberger said.

The Jets are employing a similar philosophy after failing to build on the momentum of their come-from-behind, 30-28 win over the Atlanta Falcons on Monday night.

New York (3-3) alternated wins with losses through the first six weeks. A victory Sunday would have given the Jets a chance to play for at least a share of first place when they host the New England Patriots next Sunday.

"I think our guys were ready to play," Jets coach Rex Ryan said. "We're striving for consistency and we're just not quite there yet. And obviously, we've got to get there in a hurry."

Smith, who directed the last-second, game-winning field goal drive Monday in Atlanta, went 19-for-34 for 201 yards with the two costly turnovers Sunday. Running back Bilal Powell gained 30 yards on nine carries.

What the Steelers said

"Look forward to getting back to work. It is a good feeling -- not like you won the lottery -- but it is still a good feeling nonetheless." -- Coach Mike Tomlin.

What the Jets said

"We wanted to win this game and we're not really focused on last week's win. We're focused on today's loss. Today we didn't get it done. Nothing that we did last week will help us today, and nothing that we did today will help us next week." --Quarterback Geno Smith.

What we learned about the Steelers

1. A lot of things will have to go right for the Steelers to reach the playoffs after an 0-4 start, but they at least unveiled the blueprint for surging back into contention. Ben Roethlisberger (23-for-30, 264 yards, one touchdown) played mistake-free ball as he patiently carved up the Jets with short passes. Defensively, the Steelers picked off Geno Smith twice in the red zone -- the first two turnovers generated this season by Pittsburgh. With nobody running away with the AFC Central -- Cincinnati edged Buffalo in overtime while Baltimore and Cleveland lost -- there is a golden opportunity for the Steelers to vault back into the conversation beginning next week, when they host the Ravens.

2. Roethlisberger, not always the most popular guy in the locker room in his younger years, is emerging as a leader. Coach Mike Tomlin lauded him for steadying the Steelers after a rough first two series in which they went three-and-out each time. In the fourth quarter, Roethlisberger said he asked offensive coordinator Todd Haley -- with whom he has battled -- to call all running plays as Pittsburgh tried to burn clock and establish some semblance of a running game. The Steelers gained 27 of their 73 rushing yards in the final eight minutes, a span in which Roethlisberger didn't throw a pass. Only time will tell if the Steelers' dormant running game began to awaken Sunday, but the initiative by Roethlisberger surely didn't hurt.

What we learned about the Jets

1. The Jets and quarterback Geno Smith aren't quite ready for prime time. Six days after Smith played a nearly perfect game in leading the Jets to a stunning comeback win over the Falcons on Monday, Smith looked every bit the raw rookie as he tossed two red-zone interceptions, absorbed three sacks and posted a passer rating of 48.8 -- almost exactly 100 points lower than the 147.7 rating he posted in Atlanta. As Smith goes, so go the Jets, and Sunday was evidence a team low on playmakers isn't quite ready to ride its defense into contention.

2. A defensive-minded coach cannot be expected to bench his best defensive player, but that is exactly what Rex Ryan should have done with Antonio Cromartie. The Jets' All-Pro cornerback suffered a hyperextended knee in practice Thursday and was clearly less than 100 percent Sunday, when Antonio Brown (nine catches for 86 yards) beat him repeatedly. Cromartie was also victimized for the Steelers' biggest play, a 55-yard touchdown pass from Ben Roethlisberger to a wide-open Emmanuel Sanders, the latter of whom easily outraced Cromartie into the end zone. Brown and Sanders combined for 156 receiving yards, 108 more than the rest of the team, so it's no stretch to say Cromartie possibly cost the Jets a winnable game.
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