Sometimes merely holding on can be just what the doctor ordered. Take the New York Jets, who entered last Sunday’s AFC showdown with Pittsburgh having dropped two straight games, and were on the verge of a total meltdown.
It would have been just that had Steelers’ quarterback Ben Roethlisberger been able to find a receiver on his final two passes from 10 yards away.
The Jets survived, thanks in large part to Brad Smith, who returned the opening kickoff 97 yards for a score, traveling untouched, which propelled New York to a 22-17 victory at Heinz Field as snow flurries danced and swirled.
After a 9-2 start, the Jets were going backward, having lost a 10-6 decision to Miami, and being trounced by New England 45-3.
What was wrong with the offense? What happened to that vaunted defense? Head coach Rex Ryan wasn’t sure, and was growing impatient.
It took a while, but New York (10-4) scored its first touchdown in two games when second-year quarterback Mark Sanchez, on fourth and one, called his own number.
It appeared as though Sanchez handed the ball off, but actually kept it, rolled left and scored a seven-yard touchdown that tied it at 17-17 with 5:14 left in the third quarter.
The 66-yard, eight-play drive was aided by a personal foul penalty (helmet-to-helmet hit) on free safety Ryan Clark.
There are still enough questions about the Jets’ offense, because one touchdown isn’t going to cut it when the playoffs roll around.
Pittsburgh (10-4) is the only team with six Super Bowl titles, and played without All-Pro safety Troy Polamalu, considered the best at his position in the NFL.
The plan for Sanchez, the one-time USC signal-caller, was to throw short and intermediate passes, that way he wouldn’t have to worry about getting sacked. It worked, as Sanchez hit 19 of 29 attempts for 170 yards, with no interceptions and no touchdowns.
What Sanchez relied on was a steady ground attack that totaled 106 yards, and featured one-time San Diego Charger LaDainian Tomlinson (49 yards and 11 carries), and Shonn Greene (40 yards on 12 rushes).
In efficient fashion, Roethlisberger (23 of 44 for 264 yards), a two-time Super Bowl champ, tied it at 7-7 when he drove his troops 96 yards, using 16 plays, and finding tight end Matt Spaeth (27 yards and three catches) with a nine-yard strike as 7:29 remained in the second quarter.
The Jets (276 total net yards) pulled into a 10-7 lead when Sanchez marched the visitors 56 yards on nine plays, as Nick Folk kicked a 25-yard field goal with 2:48 left before the half.
Now it was Roethlisberger’s turn to direct the Steelers 53 yards on 10 plays, and tie it at 10-10 with 33 seconds left in the second quarter, as Shaun Suisham nailed a 42-yard field goal.
On Pittsburgh’s opening possession of the second half, running back Rashard Mendenhall (100 yards and 17 carries) scored from two yards out, capping a nine-play, 74-yard march that gave the Steelers (378 total yards) a 17-10 advantage.
The Jets made it 20-17 when Folk hit a 34-yard field goal with 10:07 showing in the fourth quarter, and the game-clincher came when outside linebacker Jason Taylor tackled running back Mewelde Moore in the end zone for a safety to make it a five-point lead and 2:40 left.
Rick Assad has been a sportswriter for more than two decades. He has a political science degree from UCLA, a journalism degree from CSUN, and is a staff writer for diamondboxing.com, and is a columnist for socalboxing.wordpress.com. You may e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.