By Matt Pawlikowski
There are many things that can define a football season. While Sunday’s 27-10 win over the Jets sent a statement out to the rest of the NFL that the Steelers (1-1) are not yet deceased, it also showed what the team is made of. After failing to convert 11 plays that were inside the Jets 35 yard line, Ben Roethlisberger found tight end Heath Miller and the offense seemed to ignite as the team took a 13-7 lead.
“We know what we are capable of,” Miller said. “We have tools to put together drives like that and give our defense a break.”
Roethlisberger shouldered the blame for the loss to Denver. Sunday he was the prime reason Pittsburgh won its 10th consecutive home opener.
“We didn’t really have any deep plays, but that is important to me,” Roethlisberger said. “They call it run game alternative and I think that is important to us.”
While the short ball was key to the Steelers’ success, Roethlisberger also showed he still can go deep, hitting Mike Wallace for a 37-yard strike in the third quarter.
Without James Harrison and Troy Polamalu, the Steelers’ defense started slow and thoughts immediately flashed back to last week after they allowed the Jets to drive 90 yards on just eight plays, but they managed to shut down the Jets in the second half.
“After our performance last week, it was important for us to come back to Heinz Field and do that,” linebacker LaMarr Woodley said. “The guys who were out there went out there and did their job. We gave up a lot of big plays last week and didn’t want to do that here at home in front of our fans.”
Ryan Clark, who returned after sitting out the Denver game, led the team with eight tackles. Both LaMarr Woodley and Cam Heyward each had a sack.
Pittsburgh was flagged for 107 yards in penalties, but while the number was high (like most of the other games around the league the past two weeks), there were were a few highly questionable calls with the replacement refs still on hand.
Game Report Card
Ben Roethlisberger had just 275 yards passing, but his rating was 125. What was more important is the way he bounced back after last week’s loss to Denver. He used the long ball when needed and made quick plays to keep the Jets off balance.
Jonathan Dwyer averaged just 2.3 yards per carry; Isaac Redman even worse at 2.1 yards–not exactly Steeler football–and Chris Rainey was an afterthought. Todd Haley’s system of running back by committee is working, but Rashard Mendenhall’s absence is obvious.
Mike Wallace seems to be a fast learner and his second touchdown in as many weeks was a beauty from 37 yards. Antonio Brown showed why he was awarded a long term contract with his seven catches for 79 yards and Jerrico Cotchery’s catch in traffic to keep their first touchdown drive alive is a reason why this corp is still one of the elite in the league.
You have to love the leg of rookie punter Drew Butler. Three of his five punts landed within the 20, and Shaun Suisham seems to have a spark lit under him after being pushed during training camp as he hit on both his 45 yard tries.
The defense got just two sacks, but without the services of both James Harrison and Troy Polamalu against a good Jets team, holding them to just 16 first downs was impressive. LaMarr Woodley put a lot of pressure on Sanchez and Ryan Clark’s presence on the field again was an x-factor. Ike Taylor also stepped his game up a notch and made some good plays on former Steeler Santonio Holmes, including a key third down play in the third quarter where he knocked the football right out of Holmes’ hands.
Player of the Game
Roethlisberger was hands down the player of the game Sunday. His clock management was stellar and the way he switched things up enabled the Steelers to keep the Jets off the field and the defense fresh. He also joined some elite company as he reached 27,000 yards for his career, joining Hall of Famer Terry Bradshaw. On Sunday he was nearly perfect, hitting 24 of 31 passes for 275 yards, two touchdowns and a 125.1 rating.
“ It’s an awesome honor,” he said about reaching the plateau. “ It’s humbling and I have to thank all the guys who have caught them from me and also the line, with the history and tradition here it is truly humbling.”
“It was an appropriate response to last weeks performance, we talked openly about it this week. That’s what good football teams in the National Football League do. They might not always be perfect, but they respond.” Steeler coach Mike Tomlin
“ We calmed down, we responded the way we wanted to and got our first win. We’re at our best when we are on the bench and I am proud of those guys on offense. The guys played tough today in all three phases and that is what you have to do to win. It was a good team win today.” Defensive tackle Brett Keisel
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Matt Pawlikowski is a veteran journalist covering all things Steelers. His work can be found on Examiner.com.