2011 AFC Championship: Offense and Defense Contribute As Steelers Win Trophy
Bart Scott should have waited.
In a matchup of two of the NFL's top defenses, the Pittsburgh Steelers and the New York Jets AFC Championship matchup promised to be a low-scoring defensive battle, with the game hinging on one or two key defensive plays to decide the outcome of the contest.
No one could have imagined that the Pittsburgh Steelers would put on an offensive and defensive clinic in the first half as they took an early and ultimately insurmountable lead before the two minute warning,
Pittsburgh began immediately after the Jets won the coin toss and deferred the kickoff until the second half. Taking full advantage of the opportunity, Pittsburgh drove down the field to score on a clock-eating drive, with Ben Roethlisberger, Rashard Mendenhall and Mewelde Moore moving the ball seemingly at will against a Jets defense that couldn't seem to match their pace.
Even a questionable overturned call by the erstwhile Ed Hochuli couldn't slow Pittsburgh down as they took a 7-0 lead on a one yard run by Mendenhall.
After waiting nearly ten minutes to even touch the football, New York's offense ran into a buzz saw. A pass interference call against Ike Taylor couldn't even help the Jets as the Steelers' front seven harassed Mark Sanchez into throwing rushed and off-target passes, resulting in a punt on the Jets' first possession.
The Steelers' second drive began much like their first, with Rashard Mendenhall running roughshod over the Jets defensive line and making their defensive backs look like statues. However, a well-called but poorly-executed screen to Mendenhall on fourth-and-one gave the Jets offense a chance to get back on the field.
Pittsburgh - Green Bay: what's YOUR call?
Two tackles for a loss and a dropped pass forced the Jets to punt again, a sloppy side-of-the-foot 29 yard shank by Jets punter that gave Roethlisberger and crew possession at their own 38 yard line.
It was Mendenhall again, breaking off a 35 yard sprint down the sideline to take Pittsburgh deep into Jets territory for the second time in the half. After eating up another large chunk of the game clock, the Steelers put three more points on the board to go up 10-0.
The Jets graciously went three-and-out to give the Steelers offense the ball back, and they did not disappoint.
Ben Roethlisberger finally got his arm on track, hitting Heath Miller and Emmanuel Sanders for long completions to quickly take Pittsburgh into the Jets' red zone for the third time in the game. Only an unfortunate slip by Mendenhall kept Large Benjamin from getting a passing touchdown.
So he figured he'd take it in himself on a two yard bootleg the very next play.
All of a sudden it was 17-0, and the Jets were reeling.
It appeared to be all downhill from there for the Jets.
On the third play from scrimmage, Ike Taylor hit Mark Sanchez for a sack—the second of the series—and caused a fumble which was scooped up by William Gay, who quickly took the ball into the end zone for a defensive touchdown.
Pittsburgh was up 24-0, and the Jets hadn't even threatened yet.
Sanchez, hurt on the previous sack, came back into the game to try and rally his team, but it was to no avail: Only Ed Hochuli and his officiating team kept the Jets offense alive as the first half wound down.
Three points at the end of the half didn't seem to do much to dampen the Steelers' enthusiasm as they took a 24-3 lead into halftime.
The Jets' 50 total yards in the first half, only one of which was rushing, was their worst playoff effort by far.
As if the first half wasn't bad enough, the second half started badly with the kickoff being bobbled by Brad Smith, pinning New York deep in their own territory.
New York appeared to right their ship after the bobble though, quickly reeling off two first downs as they drive into Steelers' territory. Then former Steelers wide receiver Santonio Holmes broke free deep, where Sanchez hit him for a 48 yard touchdown strike.
All of a sudden it looked like the game might actually be competitive.
Pittsburgh came out flat on the next drive, going three-and-out with a near interception...almost.
A roughing the kicker penalty by Jamaal Westerman gave the Steelers another chance to drive for a score, but an interception by Brodney Pool quickly gave the Jets the ball back,
New York was unable to capitalize, going three-and-out and punting yet again, a 53 yarder that was uncharacteristically bobbled and knocked out of bounds by Antwaan Randle El.
Not having the successful passing game he probably would have liked, and perhaps inspired by the 100+ yard rushing effort of Rashard Mendenhall, Big Ben picked up his third and fourth rushing first downs of the game, taking the Steelers into Jets' territory once again.
But three straight plays for losses forced the Steelers to punt, a 37 yard kick that put the Jets inside their own 20.
Starting the fourth quarter down 24-10, the Jets needed something, anything, to go their way so that their 6th seed march through the playoffs could continue.
As the quarter began, it looked like the Jets might have found a spark, with Sanchez hitting Keller for a quick 18 yard strike to open the final period of regulation play.
Two plays later it was Keller again, going over the middle to catch a short pass for a first down and move the Jets closer to an offensive touchdown. The Jets continued to pound the ball, finally getting into the red zone for the first time in the game.
A muffed snap by Mark Sanchez momentarily moved them back to the 24 yard line, but a draw by Shaun Green put the Jets on the eight, and Jerricho Cotchery made it first-and-goal at the two on the next carry.
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The Steelers defense—whom James Harrison has endowed with the nickname "Hittsburgh"—stood strong, stopping the Jets just shy of the end zone on a fourth down rush up the middle.
Then it happened.
Ben Roethlisberger, working with backup center Doug Lagursky due to an injury to Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey in the first half, fumbled his second snap of the game—this time in the end zone for a safety.
All of a sudden it seemed that there was wind in the Jets' sails.
After the free kick gave the Jets possession near midfield, New York suffered a momentary injury to their own Pro Bowl center when Sanchez dove into the back of Nick Mangold's leg on a busted play. Shortly thereafter, the Jets were faced with another fourth-and-one, this time at midfield.
This time Sanchez converted, hitting Braylon Edwards across the middle.
Again the Jets were inside the ten, and this time they converted on a pass to Cotchery to pull within five.
Antonio Brown took the ensuing kickoff, returning it 27 yards to give the Steelers good field position at their own 41.
With 2:55 to go, it was time for Ben Roethlisberger to work his magic.
Heath Miller, inactive in the previous meeting between these two teams, was instrumental on the following drive, blocking for Rashard Mendenhall and catching a pivotal first down early.
A third and long completion from Roethlisberger to rookie phenom Antonio Brown sealed the deal; with no timeouts left and only 1:48 remaining, Roethlisberger had only to kneel three times, and the Jets' fate was sealed.
Another AFC Championship appearance.
Another disappointing loss for the Jets.
The Steelers move on to their third Super Bowl appearance in six years, all three with Roethlisberger under center.
The naysayers will undoubtedly question his role in the win, but no matter. He is going, while 30 other teams will be watching and wondering about what could have been.
Mark Sanchez will have to wait another year to make his case for inclusion in the elite class; beating Manning and Brady didn't help his case much since he couldn't get by Roethlisberger in the AFC Championship game, who almost anyone outside of Steeler Nation will be glad to tell you is anything but elite, and doesn't win AFC Championship games at home.
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At least he didn't used to; guess we can put that argument to bed.
Again, no matter...Terry Bradshaw wasn't considered elite either, and I believe he has four rings and a bust in Canton.
All with the Steelers.
This is the Steelers' eighth trip to the Super Bowl, with six wins in seven previous appearances.
Those look like pretty long odds for Green Bay to me...
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