Pittsburgh Steelers Lose To New York Jets: Special Teams Make Difference

Charles HoweCorrespondent IDecember 19, 2010

PITTSBURGH - DECEMBER 19:  Emmanuel Sanders #88 of the Pittsburgh Steelers misses a catch in the endzone in front of Dwight Lowery #26 of the New York Jets in the fourth quarter during the game on December 19, 2010 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

The New York Jets ran the opening kickoff back for a touchdown against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field. This proved to be one of the key plays in the Jets' 22-17 victory over the Steelers.

However, this play wasn't the only crucial play on special teams in the game. The Jets kept pinning Pittsburgh deep in its own territory, including on a punt downed at the Pittsburgh 3-yard line with just under three minutes to play. On the first play the following the punt the Steelers surrendered a safety.

The Steelers defense forced the Jets into a three-and-out following the free kick. However, the Jets were able to down another punt inside the Steelers' 10-yard line. It looked to be a much shorter kick, but the ball took a very favorable bounce for the Jets and rolled to the Steelers 8.

Looking at the box score, the stats would lead you to believe the Steelers won the game. They enjoyed a 2:36 advantage in time of possession over the Jets. The Steelers outgained the Jets on the ground and in the air. Furthermore, the Pittsburgh offense outscored the New York offense, 17-13.

While special teams were the biggest factor in deciding the game, they weren't the only factor. Ben Roethlisberger fumbled twice. Luckily for Pittsburgh, neither fumble resulted in a turnover as Flozell Adams recovered one and Roethlisberger recovered the other. However, both fumbles resulted in huge losses.

The fumble that Roethlisberger recovered came on the Steelers' final drive in which they fell 10 yards short of the end zone. While the Steelers maintained possession and were able to convert a subsequent 3rd-and-24, they were forced to use their final timeout after the fumble. That timeout could have made a lot of difference in this game as the clock wound down.

The entire body of work by the offense looked much better than it has in several games. However, in some spots, Bruce Arians' play-calling could have been better, particularly on the draw play that resulted in a Jets safety. Roethlisberger was in the shotgun and Mewelde Moore was in the game to try to fool the Jets into believing the Steelers were intending on passing. However, it was a poorly designed draw. You never want to get a runner going east-west in your end zone. The Steelers would have been better suited actually passing from that formation.

The Jets were coming off a two-game losing streak and desperately needed a win. The Jets may have needed this win more than the Steelers in order to keep their playoff hopes alive. The Steelers were also missing Troy Polamalu and Heath Miller. But the fact remains that the Steelers could have clinched a playoff berth as at least a wild-card team with a win over the Jets and failed to do so. The Steelers cannot afford to back into the playoffs, especially considering that they haven't locked up a spot yet.

The Steelers are narrowly clinging to the division lead in the AFC North by virtue of its in division record over the Ravens. The Steelers should be able to beat the Carolina Panthers; however, the Cleveland Browns aren't a guaranteed win anymore. The Steelers need to win both games to ensure being the top team in the division. The good news is that the Steelers are still in the driver's seat and hold their destiny in their own hands, despite the loss to the Jets.

The Steelers can't seem to put a complete game together. In the past few weeks, they've struggled in at least one phase of the game. It had been the offense struggling, but now it's special teams. Pittsburgh has overcome many obstacles this season due to injury. The Steelers have the potential to make a deep run into the playoffs, but need to work through some problems first. Hopefully, they handle this obstacle like so many others this season.