The score: Pittsburgh 19, New York Jets 6
The headline: BEN A LONG TIME: Franchise QB returns to form in Steelers 1st win
The bottom line: After the New York tabloids declared Geno Smith a star earlier this week, it was easy to predict the egg he would lay Sunday, when he, quite frankly, made the Steelers defense look better than it is. But, predicting how Ben Roethlisberger will play has proven to be trickier in Pittsburgh’s last 10 or so regular season games (since he suffered a serious rib injury last November against the Chiefs). In this one, he was unflappable in hanging in the pocket, adept at finding the open man, and, most importantly, spotless in securing the football against a disruptive Jets’ defensive line.
It was over when: Rookie Jarvis Jones pressured Smith into a back-foot throw deep in Steelers territory with about four minutes left which floated harmlessly into the arms of Lawrence Timmons for the Steelers second (second!) turnover of the day (and Bill Gay and Ryan Clark could have had two more), this one the clincher.
Play of the days:
+ Pittsburgh caught New York selling out against the run on a 3rd-and-1 early in the third quarter and Emmanuel Sanders scorched Antonio Cromartie (who tried to jump a route without safety help) in single coverage for a 55-yard score (and again with the somersault?), the Steelers’ only TD of the day.
+ This would have been a different ball game if Smith had put a little air under a ball thrown to a wide open Stephen Hill 4:41 before halftime. Hill was eight yards beyond Troy Polamalu, but Smith overshot him by at least that much. Instead of an easy 77-yard touchdown, the Jets punted and managed just one field goal the rest of the way.
+ Just when you thought Pittsburgh’s offensive line woes could not get any worse or comically bizarre, newly acquired left tackle Levi Brown injured his triceps (apparently seriously) BEFORE he could play a down with the Steelers and AFTER Mike Adams had already been deactivated for the game. That left Guy Whimper as the only backup and THEN the most likely emergency backup, tight end David Johnson, left the game with a wrist injury. In that sense, the Steelers line had its best game of the year as no one was injured. Beyond that, the patchwork and under-talented unit overcame a horrendous start against the Jets’ stud defensive line to hold its own, especially in the second half of the game when Pittsburgh mounted some semblance of a rushing game.
+ A lot of the criticism of Todd Haley’s playcalling has been justified, but more of it has been misguided. Haley was being absolutely buried by fans and media members on Twitter in the first quarter of that game for the number of screens and other short passes Pittsburgh was trying to execute. “Get it down the field,” they cried. “Go vertical,” they said. But if they’d be watching the line play instead of just the skilled players, they’d see it was miracle that Pittsburgh got out of that first quarter alive as every Steelers lineman except Fernando Velez was whipped on just about every play on the first two possessions. All the schemes and strategery in the world don’t mean a thing if your linemen can’t win their matchups.
+ On the other line, newly promoted Cam Heyward continued his improvement, pressuring Smith all day long. The man he supplanted, Ziggy Hood, replaced an injured Brett Keisel in the second half and held his own, even recording one of Pittsburgh’s three sacks.
+ The biggest factor working in favor of the Steelers resurrecting their season has nothing at all to do with their own play. Rather, it’s the fact that there are so many other average, underachieving or just plain bad teams in the NFL this year (an astounding 20 of them at .500 or worse at this writing). It’s so bad that the AFC might be heading toward having an 8-8 wild card team. But that creates a very uneasy tradeoff for the Steelers, with each win keeping them alive in this bizarre year, but moving them further down the draft board in April where the real work in rebuilding this team has to be done.
Zebra hunting: Let’s be honest. It would have been hard to NOT call holding in that game. We thought Terry McAulay’s crew was quite restrained in that department (and also corrected two of their own mistakes in real time).
In the booth: Ugh. Just ugh. Bill Cowher was bland and boring. The forced efforts at camaraderie with Nantz and Simms were painful. From what little we heard, the work of Shannon Sharpe and Boomer Esiason in their games was just as putrid. Consider that experiment a failure.
And now, a word from our sponsors: Larry Bird’s performance in the new McDonald’s mighty wings spot makes Joe Flacco and Colin Kaepernick look like Laurence Olivier and Peter O’Toole. In case you haven’t indulged, by the way, mighty wings are mighty bad.
Sweet tweet: @dveBillCrawford: Listening to Bill Cowher call this Steelers game is like a guy doing play by play for his ex-wife’s new failing marriage.
Next week: The struggling Ravens and their struggling elite quarterback visit Heinz Field for a game Pittsburgh absolutely must win to have any chance of resurrecting its season. Baltimore is having a fairly textbook Super Bowl hangover season, but you have to think they’d like nothing better at this point than to put a stake in Pittsburgh’s season in mid October.