The New York Jets' performance encapsulated the entire spectrum on Sunday night. For as badly as the Green & White played in the first half, the energy and precision with which they played the second half was remarkable.
Unfortunately for the Jets this was the AFC Championship Game at Pittsburgh, so spotting the Steelers a 24-0 lead turned out to be a death sentence.
"We just didn't have that passion coming out," defensive tackle Mike DeVito said. "We missed a lot of tackles. We didn't get off of blocks. I needed to do a much better job and I realize that. The defense just came out with much more passion in the second half. These are the type of games where you need a full game to win. You can't put one half together, it has to be a complete game, and we just didn't do that."
DeVito ended up as the Jets' third-leading tackler with seven solo stops and was in on two tackles for losses as the Jets nearly erased their enormous deficit by rattling off 19 unanswered points in the final 31 minutes of the game. Unfortunately for the head coach Rex Ryan's bunch, the clock ran out on them in the fourth quarter, leaving many Jets, including Pro Bowl cornerback Darrelle Revis, frustrated that their staunch efforts couldn't have started earlier.
"I think we just needed to calm down," Revis said. "I think that's the biggest thing, and just focus on our jobs. We came out in the second half, we played the best 30 minutes that we could play."
Revis had eight tackles and a pass defense that could have very easily been an interception in the first half. But after that play, the Steelers drive to continue and resulted in Pittsburgh points. And Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall, who went for 99 yards in the team's Week 15 tilt, rushed for 95 yards in the first half alone and totaled 121 yards for the game. Missed tackles and other factors resulted in a lot of easy yardage for the Steelers in the first act of the AFC drama.
The tackling, said Revis, "was poor. Guys were slipping off Mendenhall and some of their other players when they were running the ball. I don't know. You look at it and I'm sure we'll probably look at it tomorrow. You just have to play the game tough. It is a tough game and you have to get guys down, especially in the type of game like this. It's a cold-weather game and you just have to come out and get guys on the ground."
So with a 24-3 halftime deficit, what did Ryan and defensive coordinator Mike Pettine's unit do? They clamped down and didn't allow the Steelers to score again. In fact, they intercepted Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger twice, sacked him twice, caused a safety and held Mendenhall to only 36 yards after intermission.
"This team has a lot of character and it's not a front-running team," linebacker Bart Scott said. "When things get hard, I think this team shows its character and rises up. I think this was an example of it, but against a good team on the road you can't spot them 24 points, you have to play a full football game. It's a tale of two halves and we dug ourselves in a hole that we couldn't get ourselves out of."
As Scott said, the Jets came up with just too little, too late as they couldn't get a pivotal third-down stop right after the two-minute warning that would have given Mark Sanchez and the offense one last chance to find the end zone and put the Jets into the Super Bowl.
Instead, the crew that beat Super Bowl MVPs Peyton Manning and Tom Brady and held two-time Super Bowl champ Roethlisberger to a 35.5 passer rating will have to watch the big game in two weeks and spend the offseason reflecting on the season that came up just short of their lofty goal.
"Just a very awesome season," DeVito said. "I'm grateful for it. I'm very blessed to be a part of this team and be with these guys. We just need to put it all together and be ready to come back next year."