Pittsburgh has never been hospitable for the Jets. The Steel City has smelted the Green & White souls nine times in their 10 visits to western Pennsylvania. Leads of any kind have been hard to come by.
It was more of the same today at Heinz Field — a bruising 31-13 defeat as the Jets lost for the third straight time and the fourth in five games. Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger threw four touchdown passes, one long and three short. Ryan Fitzpatrick threw one TD to Brandon Marshall, but while the Jets stayed close most of the way and didn't turn the ball over, they lost their grip on the game in the fourth quarter.
The Jets went into the day with CB Darrelle Revis (hamstring), WR Eric Decker (shoulder) and G Brian Winters (concussion) sidelined. Late in the first half, LB David Harris walked off the field slowly with a hamstring injury, not to return. In the third quarter, C Nick Mangold left with a knee injury, and early in the fourth Sheldon Richardson came off with a knee injury.
"I take all the blame," head coach Todd Bowles said. "I'm the head coach. We'll go where I go. We're 1-4. That falls on me." But, he added, "We're in ballgames. We just need to get over that hump. We're in it, we're fighting, and we're togther. We all understand that. We just have to make it happen."
Here are eight observations on the game as it unfolded:
1. Early Real EstateThe Jets took the opening kickoff and moved the ball well. Fitzpatrick, third among NFL quarterbacks in plays/drive and fourth in yards/drive, directed a seven-play, 58-yard march to Nick Folk's opening field goal, then would have had a similar drive had Marshall not dropped a third-down throw. The visitors chalked up five first downs on those two drives.
"We had some good things happen n the first half," said Fitzpatrick, who completed 25 of 38 for 255 yards. "We didn't score as much as we wanted to. We still did OK. We put points on the board." Then in the second half, he said, "We just couldn't get it going. I was disappointed in our performance in the second half."
2. Big Ben to SammieIn between those first two drives, on the Steelers' third play, Roethlisberger (34-for-47 for 380 yards) hooked up with WR Sammie Coates for a 72-yard score over Marcus Williams, starting for the injured Darrelle Revis. And so the Jets' longball woes continued — it was opponents' eight completion of 40-plus yards this season, third of 70-plus. Coates went on to another TD late and six catches for 139 yards on the day.
"We just didn't get enough stops," Williams said. "They made more plays than we did, and we know we're better than that. Me personally, I know I've got to come out here and play better, a lot better for my teammates. They're depending on me."
3. Mr. Roberts' IntroductionCB Darryl Roberts, the former Patriot in his Jets debut, made several contributions. They began on the Steelers' third drive as he stayed with WR Markus Wheaton on a go route off of a fake end-around, with Big Ben's ball falling short in the end zone. Nice flash by No. 27, and then another later with a minute to go in the half deflected another end zone shot for Wheaton, and a third early in the third with an end zone breakup of a longball for Coates. But Roberts left after his last PD with a sore shoulder.
"Roberts had a better week of practice this week" than rookie Juston Burris, Bowles said. "Roberts was coming along for a while. He has a lot of speed to run with their speed. It was a good matchup for him."
3. Rontez's HomecomingRontez Miles, from nearby Braddock, PA, and playing in front of about 100 family and friends in the stands, came up with a big special teams play with six minutes left in the first half, smelling out a Steelers fake field goal and taking holder Jordan Berry down for a 3-yard loss on fourth-and-2.
4. Brandon Grabs No. 2And that set up another Jets drive into Steelers territory, this one concluding in the end zone with Marshall (born in Pittsburgh) winning the fight for the Fitzpatrick end zone ball with CB Ross Cockrell for the 15-yard TD, his second score of the year, to give the visitors a 13-7 lead with 2:06 to play in the first half.
5. Not So FastThe Jets were in position to go into the locker room with their largest ever halftime lead at Pittsburgh — true, their only other halftime lead in 10 games was by 14-9 in 1873 — but then they were out of position as the Steelers moved 75 yards to a 1-yard TD toss from Roethlisberger to wide-open TE Jesse James with 41 seconds left. And so the Green & White went in trailing, 14-13.
6. Losing Their GripThe Jets defense held up well for most of the third quarter, keeping the hosts off the board on three drives, including their first 3-and-out. But late in the period and into the fourth, Roethlisberger and the offense found their rhythm again, with Antonio Brown concluding the 80-yard drive with a 5-yard touchdown pass, increasing the Steelers' edge to 24-13.
Top Photos from the game in Pittsburgh
7. Third-Down DroughtThe Jets gave themselves some life when Leonard Williams' strip sack of Roethlisberger was plucked out of the air by Sheldon Richardson. Then the offense moved toward midfield as Marshall made his eighth catch and cleared 100 yards for the 12th time as a Jet. But an in-cut from Fitzpatrick for Marshall was low, the Jets fell to 2-for-10 on third-down conversions (finishing 2-for-11), and Bowles declined to go for it on fourth-and-2 near midfield.
"What was going through my head? I can't believe I just missed that throw on third down," Fitzpatrick said. "That whole scenario, we shouldn't have been in, because I shouldn't have made that poor throw the down before. I know we all have faith and confidence in Coach, and he has faith and confidence in us."
8. A Real Bell-RingerWhile the defense tightened up on the deep ball after Coates' early success, the Steelers offense utilized many weapons to control the clock and put a vise on the game in the second half. That meant a lot of Le'Veon Bell. The RB, playing in only his second game of the season, ran for 66 yards on 20 carries and was devastating in the passing game with 88 yards on nine receptions. Even though the Steelers didn't score on the middle drive, their last three possessions went for 80, 43 and 79 yards.