PITTSBURGH (KDKA/AP) – Despite an attempted last-minute comeback by Ben Roethlisberger, the Steelers fell to Mark Sanchez and the New York Jets 22-17 Sunday at Heinz Field.
Roethlisberger drove the Steelers (10-4) from their own 8 to New York’s 10 in the final 2:08, only to throw incomplete on the game’s final two plays, sealing the win for the Jets.
Roethlisberger repeatedly kept the drive going, finding rookie Emmanuel Sanders for 29 yards on third-and-24, Mike Wallace for 18 on third-and-10 and Antonio Brown for 16 on third-and-10.
The Steelers had to go for a touchdown rather than settling for a field goal because Mewelde Moore was tackled in the end zone for a safety with 2:38 remaining.
“Not enough significant plays, particularly there at the end to be victorious,” said Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin. “You’ve got to tip your hat to the Jets, they made the significant plays to win and of course we didn’t.”
The Jets (10-4) won in Pittsburgh for the first time after going 0-7 there since the 1970 merger. Only two NFL teams have longer winless streaks in an opposing city during that span.
In the third quarter, the Steelers took a 17-10 lead on Rashard Mendenhall’s two-yard touchdown run.
However, Sanchez fooled the NFL’s best run defense by faking a handoff before racing into the end zone untouched. The seven-yard touchdown run tied the game up in the third quarter.
The Jets ran for 106 yards against a defense that came in allowing only 60 yards per game.
The Steelers, winners of their previous four, shook off Brad Smith’s 97-yard kickoff return on the game’s opening play to take that lead; but, playing without injured defensive star Troy Polamalu, fell back into a tie for the AFC North lead with Baltimore.
“All we needed was one play, you know. The second half reminded me of that Saints game where we just kept talking about one play and that never materialized for us. We just needed somebody to make one play,” said Steelers safety, Ryan Clark. “Hats off to the Jets, they came in with a game plan, Sanchez got the ball out of his hands extremely fast, they weren’t worried about going deep. You start the game off with a seven-nothing lead; you can stick to your game plan. They were smart, they played good football.”
Pittsburgh still owns the tiebreaker and will win the division if it beats Carolina and Cleveland in its final two games.
Sanchez, rallying the Jets from demoralizing losses to the Patriots (45-3) and Dolphins (10-6) that raised speculation they might be headed to a 2008-like playoff collapse, followed his TD run by hitting Braylon Edwards for 16 yards on a key third-and-9 play.
That completion led to Nick Folk’s go-ahead, 34-yard field goal on a snow-splattered turf with 10:07 remaining. Folk hit earlier from 25 yards.
For the Jets, Sanchez went 19 of 29 for 170 yards and Edwards made eight catches for 100 yards. However, the were outgained 378-276.
An 11-play Jets drive didn’t produce any points but wound down valuable time, and after the Jets punted, former Pittsburgh high school star Jason Taylor blew through the left side of Pittsburgh’s offensive line to tackle Moore for the safety.
Still, the Jets weren’t in the clear in a game they desperately needed to win. They couldn’t move the ball after the ensuing free kick, forcing them to hold off one last desperation drive by Roethlisberger, who has led a dozen and a half such drives to win games.
Long before that, Smith’s kickoff return directly in front of Pittsburgh’s bench got the Jets off to a promising start. No Steelers defender got a hand on Smith during the Jets’ NFL-leading 14th kickoff return touchdown since 2001.
The Steelers gave up a league-high four such touchdowns last season, but this was the first against them this season.
The Jets missed a chance to go up by two scores when a holding call negated Sanchez’s completion to former Steelers star Santonio Holmes at the Pittsburgh 5. Holmes had six catches for 40 yards.
Roethlisberger (23 of 44, 264 yards) then put together one of Pittsburgh’s best drives of the season, a 16-play possession that took up more than half of the second quarter and was completed by a nine-yard touchdown pass to tight end Matt Spaeth.
Spaeth filled in as the primary tight end in place of Heath Miller (concussion), who sat out a second successive game.
Sanchez then found Edwards behind cornerback Bryant McFadden for 38 yards, leading to Folk’s 25-yarder. Shaun Suisham tied it at 10 with 33 seconds left in the half.
Mendenhall ran for 100 yards on 17 carries, only his second 100-yard effort in 11 games. Wallace had seven catches for 102 yards.
The Steelers don’t get much rest before their next game. The Carolina Panthers head into town on Thursday for an 8:20 p.m. showdown over at Heinz Field.
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