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Steelers-Jets game changers: Deep pass sets stage for big quarter

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Christopher Horner | Trib Total Media
Jets receiver T.J. Graham scores a touchdown past the Steelers' Brice McCain (25) and William Gay during the first quarter Sunday, Nov. 9, 2014, in East Rutherford, N.J.
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Christopher Horner | Trib Total Media
Jets receiver T.J. Graham scores a 67-yard touchdown during the first quarter against the Steelers on Sunday, Nov. 9, 2014, in East Rutherford, N.J.
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Christopher Horner | Trib Total Media
Jets receiver T.J. Graham catches a touchdown pass next to the Steelers' William Gay during the first quarter Sunday, Nov. 9, 2014, in East Rutherford, N.J.

Deep pass sets stage for big quarter

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Before Sunday, the offensively challenged New York Jets hadn’t completed a pass longer than 51 yards all season, and the Steelers hadn’t allowed one longer than 52 yards.

All that changed with the Jets ahead 3-0 in the first quarter Sunday, and immediately after the Steelers — who had scored 81 points in the first half the previous three weeks — punted on their first possession.

On a first-and-10 play clearly targeted to attack a Steelers secondary that was missing the injured Troy Polamalu, Jets quarterback Michael Vick dropped back, faked a handoff to running back Chris Ivory and, from his 25, delivered a deep pass downfield.

Wide receiver T.J. Graham, running a post pattern, got a step ahead of cornerback William Gay and caught the pass in stride at the Steelers 15. As Gay and cornerback Brice McCain ran into each other while converging on the play, Graham had a clear lane to the end zone.

Vick’s second touchdown pass of the season, and Graham’s first TD catch, put the Jets up 10-0, and the upset was on.

“We lined up in our three tight end set, and the way they play, they play a lot of single-safety (in the middle),” Vick said. “I told T.J. out of the huddle that the post might be there. The safety was playing at 10 yards, and I just got a good sell. I just saw him digging, and I wanted to give him a shot.

“We didn’t bring him over from Buffalo for nothing. The guy has tremendous speed and runs good routes.”

Steelers safety Mike Mitchell offered an explanation of why Gay didn’t have safety support on the play.

“We’ve got to overlap in the secondary and (we didn’t and) we gave up the big throw. They were able to get some momentum with that,” he said.

They certainly did. One fumble and six plays later, the Jets hiked their lead to 17-0, forcing the Steelers to play catch-up the rest of the way. And they never caught up.

“We didn’t play a very good first quarter,” defensive end Brett Keisel said. “We let them score 17 points in the first quarter, and that’s hard to come back from. We’ve got to do a better job of keeping the scoreboard clean.”

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Wide receiver Antonio Brown touched the ball nearly 250 times the past two seasons without fumbling, only to lose two fumbles Sunday.

The first one came on the Steelers’ initial play from scrimmage following Vick’s 67-yard touchdown pass to Graham in the first quarter. Ben Roethlisberger threw a short pass to his right to Brown near the Steelers’ 20, but defensive lineman Muhammad Wilkerson helped knock the ball loose, and safety Jaiquawn Jarrett recovered at the 20.

Five plays later, Vick threw his second touchdown pass in a three-minute span, to rookie tight end Jace Amaro.

The fumble recovery was the start of a big game for Jarrett, who also made two interceptions, and an uncommonly mistake-replete game for Brown, the NFL receptions leader who made eight catches for 74 yards.

“I tucked it (away) early,” Brown said. “I tried to shift it over with my right (hand) and …”

The Steelers had four turnovers to none for the Jets, who previously had only three takeaways all season.

“We turned the ball over,” Roethlisberger said. “When you turn the ball over, you dig yourself a hole.”

The Jets came into the game minus-15 in the giveaway-takeaway department, by far the worst ratio in the league. And Jarrett hadn’t started a game all season.

Brown also muffed a punt during the second quarter, aggressively charging in to try to field Ryan Quigley’s punt, but never fielded it cleanly and the ball bounced to Graham.

“I’ve got to make better decisions,” Brown said. “I was trying to make a play. But I’ve got to be smart.”

Brown hadn’t lost a fumble since the 2012 season.

“We turned the ball over,” he said. “We’ve got to protect the ball and put points on the board.”

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