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2011 nfl playoffs

So What Did the Jets Do Right Against the Steelers in Week 15?

With road victories at Indianapolis and New England in the first two weeks of the playoffs, the Jets enter the AFC Championship Game with some momentum — something that wasn't the case on their last visit to the Steel City back in Week 15. Then, the Jets — who'd never defeated the Steelers in Pittsburgh — entered the game losers of two straight: a 45–3 beatdown in New England, and an ugly 10–6 loss at home to Miami. It's no stretch to say they saved their season during that Week 15 game, a 22–17 victory that made their path to the playoffs considerably easier. So how'd they do it?

For the most part, they protected Mark Sanchez: The Steelers led the NFL with 48 sacks this season, but they sacked Sanchez just once. The Jets' quarterback had a decent-enough game — he threw no touchdowns, but also threw no interceptions — and scored the Jets' first offensive touchdown in twelve quarters. (That touchdown, in case you'd forgotten, came on this beauty of a fake.) Braylon Edwards, meanwhile, finished with eight catches for 100 yards, though this seems as good a place as any to mention that Troy Polamalu didn't play in that game.

Then, in the fourth quarter, they hung on: Jason Taylor's tackle of Mewelde Moore in the end zone gave the Jets two points and a five-point cushion, which meant that Ben Roethlisberger's offense would need a touchdown on its final possession. He'd come close, too, driving 82 yards in the final 2:08, but couldn't connect on his final two passes, thus giving the Jets the victory. It was the very definition of bending but not breaking.

Also: Brad Smith returned the opening kickoff in that game for a touchdown. The Jets, though, probably shouldn't count on that happening again: Rex Ryan didn't seem very optimistic yesterday that the injured Smith would be able to play Sunday.

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Photo: Jared Wickerham/Getty Images