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.