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Steelers final drive comes up short in loss to Jets

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It came down to the game's final play, but in a special teams breakdown to start the game--and superior special teams by the Jets all afternoon--cost the Steelers in a 22-17 loss to New York at Heinz Field Sunday afternoon. Despite the loss, the Steelers clinched a spot in the AFC Playoffs.

Jets 22Steelers 17

In a close game in which neither team forced a turnover, special teams were the difference. Pittsburgh had a chance to win it at the very end, but failed to overcome an early kickoff return by the New York Jets. Despite the loss, Pittsburgh clinched a playoff berth and is still in the driver’s seat of the AFC North.

GAME FLOW

The Jets gave Pittsburgh fans flashbacks of 2009 as Brad Smith took the opening kickoff to the house for a 97-yard touchdown and a quick 7-0 lead. Neither team was able to get on the board for the rest of the first quarter. In secondr, Pittsburgh switched to its no-huddle offense, embarking on a 16-play drive that featured four third-down conversions and ended with a bullet from QB Ben Roethlisberger to TE Matt Spaeth tying the game at 7-all. New York pushed into the redzone on the following drive on the strength of a 38-yard catch by WR Braylon Edwards, but came up short, settling for a 25-yard field goal by Nick Folk. Pittsburgh answered with a 42-yard Shaun Suisham field goal before halftime, sending the teams tied 10-10 going at the end of the half.

Rashard Mendenhall starred on the first drive of the second half, churning out yards and capping it all off with a two-yard plunge for a touchdown. The Jets answered soon afterwards with a little help from another helmet-to-helmet penalty on safety Ryan Clark. New York used that extra yardage to push it to the seven-yard line where, facing a fourth-and-one, the Jets executed a beautiful run-fake that left QB Mark Sanchez free to bootleg into the endzone for a seven-yard touchdown, tying the game at 17-17. The Jets took the lead with a 34-yard field goal on the next drive and looked to extend that lead on the drive after that before getting shut down just outside of field goal range. All the same, the Jets pinned Pittsburgh deep at their own three-yard line, which proved costly. On the first play of the drive, the Jets sniffed out a draw by Pittsburgh’s offense and Jason Taylor slammed RB Mewelde Moore for a safety, putting the Jets up 22-17. The Steelers defense came up strong after the free-punt, giving the offense one more chance at a win. The Steelers converted three third down chances, including a third-and-24, but came up 10 yards shy of the game-winning touchdown as time expired.

INJURIES

LT Jonathan Scott left the game with a stinger and did not return. He was replaced on the line by Trai Essex.

OFFENSE


On the ground: RB Rashard Mendenhall had one of his best games of the season, racking up 100 yards on 17 carries with one touchdown. RB Mewelde Moore added seven yards on four carries with WR Mike Wallace chipping in eight yards on a reverse. RB Isaac Redman only received one carry, but picked up seven yards and converted on third-down. QB Ben Roethlisberger finished off the day with two carries for 25 yards.

Through the air: Roethlisberger had a so-so afternoon, completing 23 of his 44 passes for 264 yards and one touchdown. WR Mike Wallace led the team with 102 yards on seven catches, while rookie wideout Emmanuel Sanders picked up 78 yards on seven of his own. TE Matt Spaeth, subbing for the injured Heath Miller, notched three receptions for 27 yards and a TD, but may have deflected a game-winning touchdown to Sanders on the next-to-last play of the game. Hines Ward contributed two catches for 24 yards.

DEFENSE

The defense only gave up 13 points on its own (not counting the kickoff return and safety, of course), but failed to get pressure on Mark Sanchez and came away with zero turnovers. LB James Farrior was the only player to sack Sanchez on the day. LB Lawrence Timmons returned to his early-season form, leading the team with 13 total tackles.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Shaun Suisham hit his only field goal to remain perfect as a Steeler, but punter Jeremy Kapinos had a forgettable day, averaging 38.0 yards on four punts, but the real story was the return game. The coverage units allowed a 97-yard kickoff touchdown to open the game and were gashed for several decent gains throughout the contest. Neither Mewelde Moore nor rookie Antonio Brown did much in the return game, though Brown failed to fair catch a punt late in the game that rolled for extra yardage, pinning the Steelers deep on their final drive. The Jets punting game consistently pinned the Steelers deep.

GAME BALL

Overall, the ball goes to Brad Smith, whose opening touchdown set the tone for the game. For Pittsburgh, the award goes to WR Mike Wallace, who posted 100 yards receiving to pass the 1,000 yard-mark on the season. Don’t forget, he did it in the presence of the man he replaced, Santonio Holmes, who picked up 40 yards for the Jets.

NEXT UP

Pittsburgh has just a few days to prepare for the 2-12 Panthers, who just picked up that second win at the expense of the hapless Arizona Cardinals. The game will be featured on NFL Network’s Thursday Night Football at 8:20 PM. Fans in the Pittsburgh area without NFL Network can tune to KDKA to see the game.

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