AFC Championship recap.
Pittsburgh Steelers 24, New York Jets 19
The way the first half played out, you wouldn’t be blamed for thinking the Jets didn’t have a chance. On the opening drive, Ben Roethlisberger led his team down the field on a 15 play, 66 yard drive that was capped off by a Rashard Mendenhall touchdown. By the time the Jets got the ball for their first possession, nearly 10 minutes had elapsed. They went 29 yards in 7 plays and had to punt. They would intercept Roethlisberger on Pittsburgh’s next possession, but wound up punting two more times as Pittsburgh scored twice more, first on a Shawn Suisham field goal and again on a 2 yard run by Roethlisberger. With
about two minutes left in the half, it was looking pretty bleak for New York, and then it got worse when Pittsburgh cornerback Ike Taylor broadsided New York’s Mark Sanchez. Not only did the hit cause a fumble that was returned for a touchdown by William Gay, but it also left Sanchez holding his throwing arm in pain. It looked like a KO, but Sanchez came back and got the Jets into position for a field goal, which made it 24-3 at the half.
Pardon the cliche, but this game truly was a “tale of two halves” (actually, I just heard them say on ESPN’s “NFL Live”).The first half clearly belonged to the Steelers, who outgained the Jets 247 yards to 59. The defense forced three punts and returned a fumble for a touchdown. The Jets were pretty worthless in that first half.
They corrected things in the second half, though. The Jets outgained the Steelers 231 yards to 75 and reeled off 16 unanswered points. Mark Sanchez threw for two touchdowns with no interceptions and finished the game with 233 yards passing. The Jets defense would intercept Ben Roethlisberger once more and sack him twice while also forcing a punt and a safety while also slowing down Rashard Mendenhall’s rushing. The safety was the key play for the Jets (an obvious understatement) because it swung the momentum back their way after Pittsburgh stopped them on a fourth and short on the 2 yard line. They happily took the two free points and took the ball back down the field for a Jerricho Cotchery touchdown reception.
Pittsburgh got the ball back with 2:56 left on the clock and the Jets still had all three of their timeouts to stop the clock in addition to the two minute warning. Judging from the way the Jets had been playing the run in the second half, it looked like they would get the ball back and Mark Sanchez would have the opportunity to lead the loud-mouth team to a last minute victory. They indeed were able to stop Mendenhall, only allowing him 5 yards on three rushes, but they got burned on a 14 yard gains from both tight end Heath Miller and rookie wide receiver Antonio Brown. Brown’s catch was easily the most significant of his career as came on a 3rd and 6 with 2:00 left.
In all, this was an excellent game and was pretty much what we all expected from these two defensively proficient teams. I enjoyed it even more knowing that my favorite team had beaten the blow hard Rex Ryan and his trash talking crew of ruffians, especially after the likes of the Colts and Patriots were unable to get it done. That’s not to say it wasn’t a worrying experience. There were the two interceptions from Roethlisberger, the safety, the inability to run in the second half, and finally, the Jerricho Cotchery touchdown that made, two Pittsburgh defenders run into each other. The stakes were also high because I’m pretty sure I’m the only Steelers fan among my friends.