PITTSBURGH - Mark Sanchez and the New York Jets offense picked up where they left off after last week's rout of the Buffalo Bills.
The Jets took the ball 90 yards for a touchdown on their first possession Sunday at Heinz Field, and the Steelers defense looked like the same unit that was carved up by Peyton Manning in last week's season opener.
But then the Steelers defense, minus two of its biggest stars in Troy Polamalu and James Harrison, rose to the challenge and shut down the Jets the rest of the way for a 27-10 Pittsburgh victory.
Mirror photos by J.D. Cavrich
LaMarr Woodley and his Steelers teammates held quarterback Mark Sanchez to a 10-for-27 showing on the day in the passing deparment.
Free safety Ryan Clark converted to strong safety in Polamalu's absence and led the defense's resurgence.
"I was just kind of a little anxious [on the first series],'' Clark said. "And everywhere Mark Sanchez pump-faked, I went. Period. I stopped being a knucklehead, and we were able to play some football.''
Clark was forced to miss last week's loss to the Denver Broncos because of his having a sickle cell trait that makes it a health risk to play in high altitude. He also missed last year's playoff loss in Denver, so he was playing in his first real game since last year's regular-season finale.
Clark was out of position on a Sanchez-to-Jeremy Kerley 45-yard pass play on the Jets' first drive.
"I was just excited,'' Clark said. "I had a lot of emotion. It was my first game since the Cleveland game last year that I played in that meant anything. Troy wasn't out there. I was trying to do a lot.''
Clark led the Steelers (1-1) with eight tackles, including one where he took down Jets running back Shonn Greene in the backfield for a 6-yard loss. He also batted down a deep pass to Jets wide receiver Stephen Hill, who caught two touchdown passes against the Bills but was held without a reception Sunday.
If not for his wearing No. 25, Clark could have been easily mistaken for Polamalu.
"I usually let Troy be great, and I sit back and do nothing,'' Clark said. "It's a lot of work when he's not out there. It's tough to manage the game and switch over to the care-taker role [on defense].''
The Jets (1-1) took a 7-3 advantage on Sanchez's 14-yard touchdown pass to ex-Steeler Santonio Holmes in the first quarter. The Jets went 90 yards with Sanchez going 4-of-5 for 80 yards on the drive.
Nick Folk's 38-yard field goal early in the second quarter was helped by a 15-yard helmet-to-helmet hit by the Steelers' Lawrence Timmons and gave the Jets a 10-6 lead.
But after that, it was all Steelers.
Sanchez completed just six passes the rest of the game, and three of them came on the Jets' final drive when the Steelers' victory was well in hand. New York finished with 219 total yards after the Broncos gained 334 on the Steelers last week.
"We just buckled down and played a little bit better,'' Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. "We're capable of playing how you saw us play over any stretch of the game. That's what we expect.''
The Jets were without two starters on defense in All Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis and linebacker Bryan Thomas. They didn't help themselves either with two costly penalties that helped lead to Steelers touchdowns.
New York strong safety LaRon Landry was called for a late hit on the Steelers' Emmanuel Sanders in the second quarter. Later on the same drive, Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger connected with tight end Heath Miller on a 1-yard scoring strike to give the Steelers a 13-10 halftime advantage.
In the third quarter, Landry gave the Steelers another 15 yards due to his making a horse collar tackle on Antonio Brown after an 11-yard reception. The Steelers then turned that into a 20-10 advantage when Roethlisberger found Mike Wallace for a 37-yard touchdown on a third-and-16 play.
"We have to play a lot better than we did today, and we have to coach a lot better than we did today,'' Jets coach Rex Ryan said. "We all share in the blame.''
The Steelers, who play at the 0-2 Oakland Raiders at 4:25 p.m. next Sunday, sealed the victory with not only a 2-yard touchdown run by Isaac Redman, but also by running 10:13 off the clock on the 14-play, 75-yard drive.
Roethlisberger played a near-flawless game by completing 24-of-31 passes for 275 yards and no interceptions to help offset a running game that managed just 66 yards on 28 attempts.
The offense, though, didn't have to score many points because of the defense's effort. Clark said the team didn't necessarily win the game without Polamalu, who was nursing a calf injury and was on the sideline for the game.
"To be honest, I was just talking to Troy every time I came off the field,'' Clark said. "He was just trying to give me things that they were doing. He was really helping me out a lot, [and] it really made me feel like he was kind of out there with me. And that's how I'm used to playing. So, once I got talking to him and settled down, it was just business as usual.''