Steelers offense sputters in shocking loss to Jets
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — On a sunny afternoon at MetLife Stadium, a once-polished Steelers offense lost its shine as a usually generous New York Jets defense proved to be quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s kryptonite.
Roethlisberger established an NFL record by tossing 12 touchdown passes in back-to-back wins against playoff contenders Indianapolis and Baltimore. But the supposedly hapless Jets, who have allowed a league-high 25 touchdown passes, devised a scheme that brought Roethlisberger and the high-flying Steelers offense back to earth.
The Jets turned Roethlisberger into a mere mortal. They intercepted him twice and held him to 54 yards passing in the first half en route to a stunning 20-13 victory before a crowd of 78,160.
The Jets snapped their eight-game slide and ended the Steelers’ three-game winning streak.
The Steelers (6-4) are looking up at AFC North rival Cleveland (6-3), with Tennessee awaiting their arrival next Monday night.
Roethlisberger might not have been upstaged by Michael Vick, but the Jets quarterback was far more efficient and disciplined. He had an 81.8 passer rating compared to Vick’s 116, which included two touchdowns and no turnovers.
Roethlisberger was as dumbfounded in the locker room afterward as he was trying to figure out the Jets secondary. He repeatedly pointed to four turnovers, including two lost fumbles by wide receiver Antonio Brown, that crippled an offense that averaged 41.3 points during a three-game homestand.
“We can’t make excuses,” said Brown, who had eight catches for 74 yards. “When you come on the road and turn the ball over four times, it’s going to be hard to win. We just didn’t get it done, and we didn’t make enough plays.”
The Steelers couldn’t generate anything with the run game, either. They rushed for a season-low 36 yards. LeGarrette Blount had zero yards on five carries.
Le’Veon Bell, second in the AFC in rushing, did little to ignite the offense. On a day when the ground game was needed to stifle the Jets’ pass rush, Bell posted his fewest yards from scrimmage: 36 yards rushing on 11 carries and 33 yards receiving on eight catches.
Bell refused to credit the Jets’ defense. Instead, he brushed off the 2-8 Jets as recipients of good fortune.
“It wasn’t anything they did that was special,” Bell said. “We knew exactly what they were going to do (defensively), and they showed us everything we watched on film.
“We hurt ourselves more than anything. We were fighting uphill, so we had to get out of the run game.”
Roethlisberger posted another 300-yard passing game but only because New York’s defensive backs suffered a collective brain cramp with the game seemingly on ice. Rookie Martavis Bryant sprinted past the Jets secondary for an 80-yard touchdown with 76 seconds left.
Bryant’s touchdown couldn’t overshadow some troubling numbers.
Roethlisberger completed six passes that netted negative or no yards. The Steelers averaged only 2.1 yards per carry, which made the play-action pass difficult to execute.
The Steelers helped the Jets improve their numbers. New York held an opponent without a touchdown on the opening drive for the first time since Week 5, and they forced a turnover for the first time in 227 snaps.
The Steelers couldn’t get deep against New York’s cover-1 or cover-2 pass defenses. Jets cornerbacks sometimes played 15 yards off the ball.
Safety Antonio Allen, who had been playing the slot corner, took away deep balls except for Bryant’s touchdown.
“They played some defense we thought we would see, and they played some defenses we had not seen before,” Roethlisberger said.
“It’s frustrating, but it’s not the end of the world,” Bryant said. “All we can do is correct what went wrong.”
On Sunday, almost everything went wrong as the Roethlisberger-led offense met its match — a one-win team with nothing to lose.
Ralph N. Paulk is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at [email protected].