Turnovers costly for Steelers in a stunning loss on road to Jets
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The Steelers fumbled away a chance to take over sole possession of first place in the AFC North.
They threw it away, kicked it away, gave it away.
What made their 20-13 loss Sunday to the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium worse is they’ve done this over and over.
“You can’t play sloppy. You play sloppy against anybody, you’ll lose the game,” Le’Veon Bell said after four Steelers turnovers led to a defeat that seemed unthinkable following a three-game sweep of the Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts and Baltimore Ravens.
But that’s the problem. The Steelers keep proving they can lose to anybody.
They talked about learning their lesson after a 27-24 loss to the then-winless Buccaneers on Sept. 28 — it still is Tampa Bay’s only victory — and after being left out of the playoffs in 2012 and ’13 because they lost four times each season to teams with losing records.
But just when it seemed they couldn’t be stopped after scoring 124 points in three games, after Ben Roethlisberger threw an NFL record 12 touchdown passes in two games, they lost to a Jets team that was on the verge of the franchise’s first nine-game losing streak.
“We’ve got four losses on the season. I don’t want to be looking down the road and say, ‘Hey, just because we didn’t win this game, it came back to bite us,’ ” defensive end Cam Heyward said.
Just like the losses to the Minnesota Vikings and Oakland Raiders last season and to the Raiders, San Diego Chargers and Cleveland Browns in 2012.
There’s an old saying that any team can win on any given Sunday. Since 2012, it’s been a given the Steelers will lose such games. They have lost 10 times in that span to teams boasting records below .500.
Instead of sitting atop the division, the Steelers (6-4) trail the Browns (6-3) and Cincinnati Bengals (5-3-1) and are tied with the Ravens (6-4) heading into next Monday’s game at Tennessee, which is just 2-7.
“Obviously I think everything that could have went wrong went wrong for us,” safety Mike Mitchell said. “It’s extremely frustrating.”
The litany of letdowns is nearly too long to list.
Multiple players denied they were flat and overconfident. But the Steelers certainly looked like it, barely putting up any opposition while the Jets (2-8) drove 72 yards in nearly eight minutes behind retread quarterback Michael Vick, settling for a Nick Folk field goal on their opening drive.
“You expect to play better,” defensive end Brett Keisel said. “I expected us to play better.”
It quickly got worse. After a Brad Wing punt, wide receiver T.J. Graham beat cornerback William Gay on a post pattern, and Vick hit him in stride for a 67-yard scoring pass to make it 10-0.
Then, just like that, it was 17-0 after Antonio Brown, who hadn’t lost a fumble since 2012, committed the first of his two fumbles, with safety Jaiquawn Jarrett recovering at the Steelers 20-yard line. Five plays later, Vick found rookie tight end Jace Amaro on a 5-yard touchdown pass on third-and-goal.
The Jets’ oft-beaten secondary is such a patchwork that coach Rex Ryan effectively is auditioning starters on a week-to-week basis, yet Jarrett had one of the best games by an NFL defensive player all season with two interceptions, a fumble recovery and a sack. It was his first start of the year.
The first Jarrett interception came on the next Steelers possession, with undrafted rookie cornerback Marcus Williams tipping a deflected pass intended for Martavis Bryant to him.
The Jets didn’t score off that turnover or a second Brown fumble on a muffed punt.
Jarrett’s second interception came with the Steelers driving on the first possession of the second half. Roethlisberger overthrew Markus Wheaton, and Jarrett was there for the turnover. Two possessions later, a second Folk field goal gave the Jets a 20-3 lead.
The Steelers twice had the ball inside the Jets 5 in the fourth quarter but managed only three points. Coach Mike Tomlin declined to gamble on fourth-and-2 from the 5, and Shaun Suisham missed a 23-yard field goal — the shortest miss in the NFL this season. They also had a first-and-goal from the 1, but LeGarrette Blount was dropped for an 8-yard loss on second down.
Fittingly, the Steelers found themselves going backward just when it seemed like it was full speed ahead.
“This is tough. This is a team we should beat,” linebacker Lawrence Timmons said.
It’s a refrain the Steelers have said often of late.