JETS 22, STEELERS 17
Steelers' record: 10-4
One year ago: 7-7
Series record (including playoffs): Steelers lead, 16-4
Come this stage of every season, the NFL sends out a weekly release detailing the different scenarios for a team to clinch a playoff spot or a division title or a first-round bye in the playoffs. As Sunday dawned, the Steelers found themselves in an enticing spot, because if they beat the Jets and New Orleans defeated the Ravens in Baltimore, all they would need to clinch the division title and a first-round bye would be a win over 2-12 Carolina on Dec. 23.
It was only the opening kickoff, and when it was over there still were more than 59 minutes to play, but Brad Smith's 97-yard return for a touchdown qualified as a turning point because it allowed the Jets to build a cocoon around second-year quarterback Mark Sanchez. The Steelers would rebound to score the next 10 points, but instead of having a two-score lead, it was just a small deficit for the Jets thanks to the kickoff return, and it limited Sanchez's exposure to Pittsburgh's pressure defense.
STAT THAT STANDS OUT
With his seven catches for 102 yards, second-year pro Mike Wallace posted the first 1,000-yard receiving season. Wallace now has 53 catches for 1,048 yards, which is good for a 19.8 average.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
* Shortly after the loss, the Steelers received notification from the NFL that they had clinched a playoff spot. The exact scenario of how they clinched was not explained beyond the fact it included the Steelers' strength of victory.
- Evidently, it's the fourth time that's the charm. The first three times Ben Roethlisberger tried to get the ball to Matt Spaeth, the passes were incomplete. The fourth time – a third-and-4 from the Jets 9-yard line – Roethlisberger drilled the ball into a tight space and Spaeth made the catch for the touchdown. The Steelers converted all four third-down situations on the 16-play, 96-yard drive, including a third-and-10, a third-and-18, and then the third-and-4 for the score that tied the game, 7-7, midway through the second quarter.
- David Johnson had nice blocks on two plays the keyed the Steelers drive for a touchdown to open the third quarter that gave them a 17-10 lead. The first popped Rashard Mendenhall for a 21-yard gain to the Jets 4-yard line, and then he helped blast open the hole allowing Mendenhall to score standing up from 2 yards out.
- The Steelers offense did as nice job converting third downs throughout the game. They finished the game 11-of-17 (65 percent) on third down, and that included conversions on the final possession of a third-and-24, a third-and-10, and then another third-and-10. But alas, the game ended in a defeat when Roethlisberger's pass to Matt Spaeth was incomplete on a third-and-goal from the Jets 10-yard line.
- Even with the loss, the Steelers stayed on a track to win the AFC North and clinch a first-round bye in the playoffs. If the Steelers defeat 2-12 Carolina on Dec. 23 at Heinz Field and the win in Cleveland against a Browns team that's now 5-9, they would win the division over the Ravens based on a better division record (5-1 vs. 4-2). Then, because the there are no teams in either the AFC South or the AFC West with fewer than five losses already, the Steelers would finish as the No. 2 seed in the conference.
WHAT WENT WRONG
* Shaun Suisham's opening kickoff traveled 67 yards, and Brad Smith returned it 97 yards for a touchdown. On his jaunt, Smith encountered virtually no resistance, with only Ryan Mundy getting close enough to get a finger on him. It was the first return for a touchdown allowed by the Steelers special teams this season, after opponents returned four kickoffs for touchdowns in 2009.
- Before the first quarter was over, Peter Morelli had his penalty flag fall out and drop onto the field. All three times, he dropped it by mistake, and all three times he had to get on the referee's microphone and tell the crowd there was no foul on the play.
- The Jets' first offensive touchdown in 12 quarters came on a fourth-and-1 from the Steelers 7-yard line, when Mark Sanchez faked a dive play to Shonn Greene and then ran around the left end for the touchdown that tied the game, 17-17, with 5:14 left in the third quarter.
- Crezdon Butler had a clean shot at punt returner Jerricho Cotchery at the 15-yard line, but he whiffed, and the resulting 19-yard return gave the Jets possession at their 34-yard line with 1:54 left in the third quarter. Later in the same possession, on a third-and-10 from the Jets 46-yard line, Ryan Mundy came in clean on a blitz but missed the tackle only to have Sanchez complete a 16-yard pass to Braylon Edwards for the first down. Nick Folk's 34-yard field goal gave the Jets a 20-17 lead with 10:07 left in the game.
- The Steelers ran the ball effectively throughout the game, with 147 yards on 25 attempts working out to a 5.9 average. But on a first down from their own 2-yard line is not the time for something slow developing. With Ben Roethlisberger in the shotgun, a handoff to Mewelde Moore ended up being a safety when Jason Taylor shot through a gap created when Chris Kemoeatu pulled from his left guard spot and made the tackle in the backfield. Those two points prevented the Steelers from simply needing a field goal on their final possession to tie the game.
When the week began, the Steelers were confident that Heath Miller would be available for the game after passing his post-concussion tests on Tuesday, which meant he was cleared to practice on Wednesday.
But after practicing on Wednesday, Miller developed headaches, and so he was back on the sideline for Thursday. On Friday, Miller was able to practice again, and at that time Coach Mike Tomlin said Miller was legitimately questionable. If Miller experienced headaches after Friday's workout, he would not play; if there were no headaches, he would be in the lineup.
Since Miller was on the inactive list for the game against the Jets, he must have experienced some headaches following the physical activity on Friday.
His availability for the game against the Carolina Panthers will be determined by the same basic procedure, and Miller will not play until he experiences no more headaches after physical exertion.
Flozell Adams (ankle) and Bryant McFadden (hamstring) both were given some time off early in the week of preparation, but both were able to get back onto the field by Thursday and both were in the starting lineup.
During the game, Jonathan Scott sustained a stinger on the play where Jason Taylor dumped Mewelde Moore in the end zone for a safety, and he did not return for the final possession of the loss to the Jets.