In the highly anticipated AFC championship matchup, it was truly a heartbreaker for the Jets, as they were too little too late against the Steelers. Had a few plays gone there way, or perhaps had they played better in the first half, it may have been a different outcome. But the Steelers will be the ones heading Dallas in two weeks after nail biting finish.
The Jets won the toss and decided to defer. They put the game in the hands of their defense to start it off. The decision is somewhat questionable, since the Steelers, led by Rashard Mendenhall, were able to tear through the Jets to open up the game with a touchdown on the first drive. The Jets, usually a stout run defense, seemed to start off a big sluggish.
Unfortunately for the Jets, their offense started out sluggish too. Santonio Holmes and Braylon Edwards were absent from the first half of play. Give credit to Troy Polamalu and the Steelers’ defense for stepping up in an area they aren’t known for as much as their defense against the ground game.
After that, the Steelers were driving again. Ben Roethlisberger continued to gash into the Jets’ defense with his arm and his legs. Luckily for the Jets, they made a red zone stop and only allowed a field goal.
Pittsburgh continued to show its defensive toughness by stopping Mark Sanchez and the Jets again. The Jets made some plays but not enough to put together a solid drive that would lead in points. They put him under pressure so he couldn’t make throws, had his big play receivers blanketed, and essentially shut down LaDainian Tomlinson.
After that, an interception by Bryan Thomas saved the Jets from a bigger deficit, but as they continued to struggle, the Steelers continued to thrive. They got a two yard touchdown run from Roethlisberger, who really killed the Jets with his ability to move around in the pocket, make throws on the run, and take it himself. The Jets were now down 17-0.
Desperate to get some points with the half winding down, Rex Ryan had a crucial decision to make. On 3rd and 17 from their own 26, should they go for it to try to get on the board, or run the ball and wait till the next half? I’m not saying Ryan made the wrong call, but it did not turn out the way he planned. Ike Taylor knocked the ball loose from Sanchez and William Gay returned it for a touchdown. I still truly feel that it was an incomplete and not a fumble, which could have changed the entire complexity of the game, but that is water under the bridge now. The Steelers had a 24-0 lead.
Sanchez was determined not to get shut out in the first half, so he stormed down the field and led his team to a field goal before halftime. Still, they would have to make the greatest comeback in playoff history if they wanted to win.
The Jets seemed up for the challenge as they started out the second half with some good third down conversions and an excellent bomb to Holmes for a touchdown. Unfortunately, the Jets offense had a little difficulty until the fourth quarter. They failed to convert on a goal line series, but lucked out when a botched snap by backup center Doug Legursky led to a Jets safety.
After receiving the punt, Sanchez drove again and continued to be clutch, getting a three yard touchdown to Jerricho Cotchery. But they would not get the ball back, for the defense was unable to stop the ever persistent Roethlisberger.
So in this tale of two halves, what went wrong for both teams?
In the beginning, the Jets were really killed by penalties that led to Steelers first downs. In the second half, a roughing the kicker call was also damaging. But they still played hard and never gave up.
Sanchez had an excellent game, throwing for 233 yards and two touchdowns. If you told me before the game that he would have outplayed Roethlisberger, I would have told you they would win for sure.
But what really killed them was the absence of their playmakers in the first half. This caused Sanchez to struggle a little to move the ball.
However, they came out roaring in the second half. Aside from the Holmes touchdown, Shonn Greene put together some monster runs, including one that absolutely destroyed Steelers’ corner Ryan Clark. He finished with 9 carries for 52 yards.
The Jets played excellent football in the second half, but they just couldn’t get it going for long enough to win. Their defense was slow at first, and that was their ultimate downfall. They can look forward to the future however, because Sanchez seems to be growing each and every game. He had a wonderful game, it just wasn’t his year.
This year belonged, once again, to Roethlisberger. Sure, he had a bad game, passing for 133 yards and two interceptions. But his mobility gave the defense headaches, and with support from the rest of his team, he was able to get a win.
Mendenhall was a monster from the start, taking 27 carries for 121 yards and a touchdown. Against the Jets, that is something to be very proud of. He looked a little tired at the end, but battled his way through and will be the main part of the game plan in the Super Bowl.
The Steelers defense was lock down in the first half, but seemed to crumble a bit in the second half. They will have to play a lot better against Aaron Rodgers and the Packers, and Big Ben will need to step up his game too if he wants to win a third Super Bowl.