When he was talking about the final play of Sunday's game, Pittsburgh's desperation pass into the end zone as time expired, Jets safety Lamarcus Joyner offered the perfect description.
"It was like a gift," the veteran said after his second INT of the game sealed the Green & White's second come-from-behind road victory of the season, 24-20, as second-year quarterback Zach Wilson led the Jets back with 14 points in the final quarter.
Before the game at Pittsburgh (1-3) on Sunday, a place the Jets (2-2) have now won for the second time in 12 tries (regular- and postseason games), the team's defense had a total of 2 interceptions through three games. Neither of those was credited to Joyner, 31, who signed in free agency before the 2021 season, took just 9 snaps in before tearing his triceps tendon in the season opener at Carolina. He re-signed with the team for 2022.
With the game scoreless midway through the first quarter and the Steelers facing a first-and-10 at their own 23-yard line, QB Mitch Trubisky lofted a pass over the middle intended for Diontae Johnson. The pass was high, tipped by Johnson and corralled by a diving Joyner, who returned it to the Pittsburgh 36. It was his first INT since 2018, when he played for the Rams.
"It was a long time coming," he said after the game. "It felt real good to see hard work pay off."
With the Jets defensive line pressuring the quarterback and limiting the Steelers' rushing attack to an average of 3.8 yards a carry from 31 rushing plays, Joyner and the Jets' defensive backfield knew they would be tested, and tested often.
"I feel like we're starting to get into more games, getting more pass-happy teams and quarterbacks," he said. "It only gives us more opportunities in the secondary. And I feel like I just capitalized with my fundamentals and technique."
Overall in the game, Joyner had the 2 INTs, made 6 tackles and had 4 passes defensed (a career high) while teaming at safety with Jordan Whitehead, who also had an interception. His performance makes him the only Jets player with that triple-threat of a stat line. He is the ninth player in the past decade to have at least 6 tackles, 4 passes defensed and 2 INTs, and the first since Cowboys' CB Trevon Diggs in 2020.
The Jets built a 10-6 lead at halftime, and could have exited the field with a wider lead had it not been for a late interception of Wilson and a roughing-the-passer penalty on Carl Lawson that led to Chris Boswell's stadium record 59-yard field goal to end the first 30 minutes. With Trubisky hitting on only 7 of 13 passes for 84 yards (and 3 sacks), Pittsburgh head coach Mike Tomlin benched Trubisky for rookie QB Kenny Pickett, the team's top draft pick who also played in college at Pitt.
"It's hard when you game plan for one quarterback and you don't know the tendencies of another quarterback," Joyner said. "When he came in it was nerve-racking. But I kept saying to myself 'stick to the game plan, stick to the game plan don't do anything different.' And we were able to capitalize on some of the mistakes he made."
Pickett rallied the Steelers to 14 unanswered points before the Jets again rallied on the road and again against another team from the AFC North, the fourth and final one on the schedule this season. But with the stadium crowd roaring and momentum seemingly turning Pittsburgh's way, Wilson drove the Jets 81 yards in 11 plays before hitting Corey Davis with a 5-yard TD pass to cut the deficit to 3 points, 20-17, with 7:35 to play.
On the ensuing drive, Pickett drove the Steelers to the Jets' 36, but his pass intended for TE Pat Freiermuth was tipped and picked off by Michael Carter II. Wilson again showed incredible poise and moxie as the Jets went down the field and took the lead, for good, on rookie Breece Hall's TD dive with 18 seconds to play. With just 8 seconds to play, and no timeouts left, Pickett lofted a pass into the end zone, which was grabbed by Joyner as time ran out.
"It was nerve-racking," Joyner said of the late-game chaos. "I was praying you don't see the kind of plays Aaron Rodgers makes. It went through Whitehead's hands."
And as Joyner said, "it was like a gift." Victory in his two hands.
See the images following the Week 4 victory in Pittsburgh.